Prehistoric Mine Preserved In Sunrise, Wyoming

Jun 29, 2020

Prehistoric tools (called Clovis points) recovered from the Powars II mine site.
Credit Spencer Pelton

An ochre mine in Sunrise, Wyoming may be one of the earliest mining sites in North America. Archaeologists have been working to preserve the mine, called the Powars Two Paleoindian Archaeological Site, since it was first discovered. In the last year, those archaeologists partnered with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to make the mine safe for future excavations.

Wyoming State Archaeologist Spencer Pelton said the mine was used between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. He said people used it to create red paint from ochre, but also as a social get together.

"It looks like to me that the site was not only used to mine ochre but it also served as some kind of a hangout for folks," said Pelton. "Because people were sitting there perhaps working on their clothing, working on the perishable aspects of their weaponry like spear shafts, as well as chipping into this soft ore deposit to extract red ochre."

Pelton said the mine is unique because of its age and the huge number of artifacts that have been found there. He said preserving the ancient ochre mine is important because it is the only one in North America.

Pelton is currently working on a petition to add the mine to the National Register of Historic Places.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.