Some months ago in this space, we repeated a fantastic rumor about a Machu Picchu-type place deep in the Wind River Mountains. The story was far-fetched, and it just could not be verified.
This rumor claimed that melting glaciers had revealed a thousands of years old Indian village near Wyoming’s tallest mountain and a team of college folks from a Utah university was secretly excavating it.
Great story. Almost Indiana Jones-like. It would have really put Wyoming on the map.
Alas, we reported that it was not true.
Or was it?
University of Wyoming Professor Richard Adams read my column and offered a possible explanation:
“As usual on Sunday mornings, I read your column in the Laramie Daily Boomerang. I was startled to see you mention a Machu Picchu in the Wind River Mountains.
“I suspect that you may be combining references to an archaeological site that I found in 2006. I'd like to tell you my story.”
Adams has done lots of archaeological work in the state over the past 25 years and this find caps his career.
The site he described is not quite as dramatic as my apparently mythical Wyoming Machu Picchu, but it is pretty darned amazing. It offers tremendous significance to studies about early Wyoming peoples. But mysteries abound, and the findings create as many questions as answers.
Machu Picchu, by the way, is an amazing and abandoned sacred village high in the South American Andes Mountains that is viewed as one of the world’s great mysteries.
Here is Adams’ story about what I was calling Wyoming’s Machu Picchu:
“My crew discovered the High Rise Village site August 12, 2006 in the Wind River Range south of Dubois. I was collaborating with retired Dubois outfitters Tory and Meredith Taylor. They had taken my volunteer crew to a standing wooden wickiup near Ross Lake. We examined the viewshed for more archaeological sites and found what we call High Rise Village.
“The village is a prehistoric site between 10,500 and 10,800 feet above sea level. It contains the remains of about 60 house structures. Some of the houses even have the remains of wooden superstructures.
“Artifacts within these structures consist of chipped stone debris, projectile points, scrapers, manos, metates, and even pottery. I have dated several hearths inside the structures and they range from only a couple hundred years old to a whopping 4,000 years old.
“The site is positioned next to a big horn sheep migration corridor (shown to me by John Mionczynski) in a large stand of white bark pines. The combination of sheep meat and pine nuts supported the Shoshone people who lived there in the late summers. No one wintered there.
“From 2007 to 2010, I conducted research at the discovery site financed with my own money.”
In 2010, Adams hosted the first High Altitude Archaeological Summit at the High Rise Village. David Hurst Thomas (curator of North American Archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History), Robert Bettinger (University of California, Davis), Robert L. Kelly (Chair, Anthropology Dept, UW) and others visited the high altitude location in the Wind Rivers.
Thomas and Bettinger are the only two other researchers who have found villages in alpine settings in North America.
Adams says: “I wanted us to all get together and compare notes. Thomas lectured about high altitude village sites at the Dubois museum in 2010, and then again at UW last spring.
The High Rise Village site is now well known. The State Historic Preservation Office nominated the site to the National Register of Historic Places. A story about it was the cover story in an issue of The American Archaeology Magazine in 2010.
The reason the site is associated with Utah is that Adams could not continue to finance the research, so he offered the project to a colleague, Dr. Chris Morgan, at Utah State University. He procured funding (through USU and the National Science Foundation) to continue working the site. He and his crew (including Dubois resident Carlie Idecker) did field work at High Rise in 2010 and 2011.
So, not only is the rumor of my Machu Picchu solved, but also now Wyoming folks know about a 4,000 year old village that resided above 10,000 feet about the time of the building of the pyramids and some two centuries before Christ.
Now that is a mystery that needs further study. Thanks to Adams for his good work and for letting me know the “rest of the story.”
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.