UW to Celebrate National Historic Landmark Designation of Hell Gap July 22

four people kneeling and carefully excavating an area in front of them
UW Advanced Archaeological Field School students conduct excavation field work at the Hell Gap Paleoindian site during summer 2015. Students (pictured from top) are: Amanda Moore, a Montana State University undergraduate; Keatton Wilson, a UW undergraduate from Colorado; Christie Huber, an undergraduate at the University of North Texas-Amarillo; and Bradley Saint, an undergraduate from the University of Kansas. Hell Gap will receive national historic landmark designation during a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony hosted by the UW Department of Anthropology Saturday, July 22, at 11 a.m. (Marcel Kornfeld Photo)

An area where some of North America’s earliest people hunted bison and made tools soon will be celebrated for being designated as a national historic landmark.

Hell Gap Paleoindian Site, an important archaeological excavation site located on the western boundary of the Great Plains, will receive national historic landmark designation during a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony hosted by the University of Wyoming’s Department of Anthropology Saturday, July 22, at 11 a.m. Lunch will follow.

In January, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced 24 new national historic landmarks, which included the Hell Gap site, located about 13 miles north of Guernsey in Goshen County. Abundant numbers of Paleoindian and Archaic artifacts have been found and excavated in this valley site since 1959.

“We (Department of Anthropology) are largely responsible for doing the nomination, and it is based on our research,” says Marcel Kornfeld, a UW professor of archaeology. “Hell Gap serves as the key site for the history of Paleoindian cultures across North America.”

The dedication event will include short speeches from several Goshen and Platte county officials/legislators; noted archaeologists George C. Frison and Vance Haynes; National Park Service personnel from Denver and Fort Laramie; and officers from Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.

“Presently, we have over 200 people signed up for the dedication,” Kornfeld says. “A number of these are archaeologists from the region; some are former students. We think there are a number of Wyoming Historical Society members from the area (who will attend).”

The mysteries that have been uncovered show evidence of repeated occupations by nine Paleoindian cultural complexes in well-stratified deposits, spanning from between 11,000 and 6,500 years ago, according to the national historic landmark nomination packet Kornfeld submitted. Over the decades, archaeologists have discovered several hundred projectile points, hundreds of scrapers and tens of thousands of flakes, or remains from creating stone tools; bone needles for sewing clothes; and post holes from structures that once stood in the area. Even a few beads were found.

James Duguid and Malcolm McKnight, high school students who lived in the region and both of whom went to school at UW, discovered the site in 1958. Harvard University’s Peabody Museum conducted excavations at Hell Gap from 1962-66.

Kornfeld and Mary Lou Larson, a UW professor of archaeology, along with Frison, professor emeritus at UW and a former Wyoming state archaeologist, continued Harvard’s work beginning in 1993. Kornfeld and Larson have led the UW field schools a number of times during the past two decades.

Bison bones, stone tools, beads, needles, post holes and teepee rings have been discovered during past summer excavation field work, Kornfeld says. This evidence helps tell the story of how early Paleoindians lived. One level of the site revealed a lot of bison bone. The animals likely were killed elsewhere and brought back to the campsite.

According to the nomination packet summary, “The site fundamentally changed how archaeologists viewed Paleoindian foragers because, as a residential campsite, it showed a diversity of human activities including medium game hunting, tool stone acquisition and personal ornamentation -- none of which were evident at the big-game kill sites and surface scatters that had dominated the Paleoindian archaeological record up to that point.”

The UW Department of Anthropology will host the summer Wyoming Archaeological Society meeting at Hell Gap the same weekend as the dedication, Kornfeld says. The summer meeting will include flint-knapping demonstrations, target shooting, public tours of the Hell Gap site and an open house.

The National Historic Landmarks Program recognizes historic properties of exceptional value to the nation and promotes the preservation efforts of federal, state and local agencies, and Native American tribes, as well as those of private organizations and individuals. The program is one of more than a dozen administered by the National Park Service that provide states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition and funding to help preserve the nation's shared history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities.



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