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Archaeologist presents findings on Native artifacts in Wind River Range and warns against looting 

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An analysis of archaeological research focusing on the mass amounts of Native American artifacts in the northern end of the Wind River Range was presented to the public for the first time Tuesday night, May 17, in Pinedale.

Retired Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Archaeologist Dave Vlcek presented his findings to the Upper Green River Basin Chapter of the Wyoming Archaeological Society.

Vlcek found evidence of tribes in the northern end of the Wind River Range at elevations sometimes above 11,000 feet, which is above tree-line.

Much of the research he focused on was conducted five years ago. Vlcek analyzed it over the years for Bonneville Archaeology and the Wyoming Archaeological Society.

Vlcek said the vast majority of material is about 1,000 years old, but some of it is up to 5,000 years old.

The artifacts tell the story of prehistoric campsites, hunting sites and quarries for mining tools. He also found ancient bison bones that are eroding out of ice patches.

“It smells like a barnyard in this area – it’s kind of interesting, because it's got that stench to it,” Vlcek said to the crowd.

These days, the nearest living bison is north of Jackson – two mountain ranges away.

Vlcek said collecting this data now is more important than ever.

“We are losing a lot of these sites,” he said. “Twenty or 30 years ago, there was quite a bit of material, but four years ago I went back, and I could barely find it, because people mess with that stuff.”

Vlcek added that taking artifacts is illegal. Even when he has the legal permits to take the materials, he often documents his findings and leaves them on site.

But he said in more recent years there’s been looting. For example, the ancient bison bones were gone a year after Vlcek documented them.

“A sheep hunter decided he was going to go up there, and he found these bison skulls laying around. So he dug them out, he put a photo on the internet and he gave the GPS coordinates,” Vlcek said. “He's telling the world about this – the sites are going to be looted, and they're so tremendously rare and sensitive.”

Vlcek said because of this and other legal constraints, his specific findings he documented in his research paper are classified to the public.

He said the best thing people can do is take a photo and document the location of an artifact and alert a local archaeologist or government entity. Additionally, it is required to inform the Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Riverton.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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