Archeologists, Others Study Ancient Sunrise Mine

Jul 15, 2019

View of Sunrise, Wyoming on July 8, 1926 - a present mining ghost town, located in Platte County, Wyoming.
Credit Public Domain

Archeologists and other scientists will gather at an important prehistoric mining site in Southeastern Wyoming today. The researchers hope to learn more about the area’s earliest human inhabitants.

The Sunrise Mine near Hartville is no longer in operation, but it provided copper before the turn of the century and iron until 1980. The first humans to find valuable resources at the site, however, lived about 13,000 years ago.

The site was an ancient source of red ochre, which was used as a dye during burials and may have served other purposes. It was also an abundant source of toolstone, which can be turned into weapons and other tools.

Some of the field's leading researchers will visit the site today to study — and use — the toolstone. Archeologist George Zeimens said some of the world's best flint-knappers will be there to work with the toolstone the same way prehistoric humans did.

"It's a process called experimental archeology," he said. "And so, they're in there trying to duplicate these prehistoric projectile points and other tools to try and understand better how these people were doing certain things and why they were doing certain things.

The event is not open to the public, but Zeimens said researchers are hoping to learn more about the largely mysterious lifestyles of Wyoming's earliest people.

George Frison is a professor emeritus at the University of Wyoming. He said evidence of ancient toolstone mining makes the site even more important.

"If you're going to kill a mammoth or you're going to kill a bison, you gotta have a pretty good piece of weaponry to do it with," he said. "And there is a source of extremely good quality toolstone, right alongside the red ochre."

He added archeologists are likely going to be studying the unique site for decades.