Sundance, WY — The Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF) has funded internships for two University of Wyoming undergraduates for the spring semester of 2020. Interns Sierra Ferris and Xavier Michael-Young are aiding in curation of the collection of bison bones and other artifacts that have been excavated from the Vore archaeological site. The sinkhole at the site, which is located in northeastern Wyoming, was used as bison trap from about 1550 to about 1800 when horses and guns made on-foot “jumps” obsolete. The sinkhole was also the site of butchering. The remains of at least 5,000 bison, killed in 22 hunts, are preserved in discrete layers in the sediments on the sinkhole floor.
Excavations at the Vore site carried out in 1971 and 1972 yielded a collection that currently occupies 502 archival boxes of material that include over 20,000 bones (mostly bison, but also wolves, dogs, grizzly, antelope, and mule deer) and 1,300 tools and lithic flakes as well as reams of associated notes, maps, and excavation forms. The collection is currently housed at the University of Wyoming Archaeological Repository (UWAR), but the items have not been properly stored or inventoried.
Funding from two donors, who wish to remain anonymous, made the two internships possible. Priority was given during the selection process to students who had graduated from a reservation high school, and both interns have tribal affiliations. Ferris grew up on the Wind River Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. She is a junior at the University of Wyoming majoring in psychology with a minor in anthropology. Ferris stated, “This internship will help me academically by letting me explore further into Bio-Archaeology and help me understand animal remains in depth. I am intrigued with the past and how nature has evolved.” After she graduates, she is interested in researching historical trauma among Native Americans and would like to work as a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. Michael-Young is a freshman at the University of Wyoming. He is currently majoring in agricultural business and dreams of establishing his own business to benefit his family and tribes. He is affiliated with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Delaware Tribe of Indians. Michael-Young was interested in the internship because he would like to tie heritage management and traditional ecological knowledge into his agricultural focus.
Interns have already made progress towards proper storage and curation of the bone artifacts. VBJF-funded intern Jolie Magelky, who is currently a junior at the University of Wyoming, cleaned and inventoried all projectile points from the site during the summer of 2019. This semester, Ms. Ferris and Mr. Michael-Young are involved in removing bones from tin foil or other damaging packaging, cleaning, recording information in the UWAR collections management system, and appropriately rehousing the items for long-term storage.
Glen Wyatt, long-time VBJF board member said, “One mission of the VBJF is to encourage scientific research, and we are excited that 50 years after many of these bones and stone tools were excavated, they will finally be properly stored and digital images made available to researchers worldwide.”
Both UWAR and the VBJF are actively seeking additional funding for the curation effort. Dr. Marieka Arksey, the UWAR Collections manager, estimates that reorganizing the collection, labeling the artifacts, full database entry into the collections management system, photographing key pieces, and constructing foam mounts for the skulls and other fragile portions will be a 4-year project.
The Vore Site is open to visitors from June 1 through Labor Day. It is located near interstate 90 about 15 miles east of Sundance, WY. The VBJF board also hosts field trips for regional school groups in May and September. Information on these interpretive programs is available on the Foundation’s website.