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Archaeologists investigate high-altitude prehistoric village

US: Utah State University (USU) anthropology professor Chris Morgan is leading a team of researchers this summer investigating why the prehistoric inhabitants of western Wyoming chose to build and live in a large village at nearly 11,000 feet elevation in the Wind River Range. The site, High Rise Village, contains at least 51 houses called wickiups as well as substantial remains from campfires, cooking, tool making and seed grinding, Morgan said.

“We will precisely map the site with state of the art surveying equipment on loan from USU’s Spatial Data Collection, Analysis and Visualisation Lab and carefully excavate a series of wickiups to recover stone tools, animal and plant remains and carbon used to radiocarbon date when each lodge was occupied,” Morgan said. “Later in the summer, Dr. Pack will use helicopter-mounted LiDAR and high-resolution photoimagery to search for additional high altitude villages in the area.”

“In addition to this site helping figure out the local archaeological sequence, it will help us understand how people adapt to high altitudes and their ecological analogue at high latitudes,” Morgan said. “This is essential to understanding how people came to occupy most of the globe by the end of the Pleistocene.”

Morgan said finding more sites like the one being excavated by the USU team is essential to refining our understanding of these processes. He hopes the use of remote sensing will make the work much more efficient. He predicts it will be used in similar remote settings in the near future.

In addition to National Geographic, the project is funded in part from a grant from the BYU John Topman and Susan Redd Butler Foundation and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at USU.

Morgan and his team seek to learn if similar conditions led to the use of High Rise Village and possibly other high altitude sites in the area by excavating the site and performing remote-sensing work to discover additional, similar sites nearby. The team includes Morgan, Ken Cannon, Robert Pack and Richard Adams, each bringing a different expertise to the project.

Morgan, an assistant professor in USU’s anthropology programme, is interested in high-altitude hunter-gatherer adaptations worldwide. Cannon, director of USU Archaeological Services and an adjunct anthropology professor at USU, is an expert on prehistoric hunting patterns and animal behaviour in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Pack, an associate professor in USU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is an expert in remote sensing. Adams, who works at the state archaeology office in Wyoming and who was a co-discoverer of the site, is an expert in Wind River mountains archaeology.

Source: American Archaeologist