Ceramics from the Firehole Basin Site and Firehole Phase in the Wyoming Basin

Article excerpt

The Firehole Basin site (48SW1217), excavated in 1976 and 1977, is the type site for the Firehole phase proposed by Metcalf for the Wyoming Basin of central and western Wyoming. Given the dearth of excavated sites for the period from 700-300 B.P., and dated ceramics in Wyoming Basin in general, the Firehole Basin assemblage is an important indicator of material culture in this time period, but the artifacts have never been analyzed or reported in detail. Most researchers have characterized the Firehole Basin ceramics as Intermountain ware, but the ceramics have few affinities with this type, and this label should not be applied. Likewise, the Firehole Basin ceramics do not fit the definition of Boars Tusk Gray ware, a proposed southwest Wyoming type. The closest stylistic and technological affinities may be with Uncompahgre Brown ware or the recently proposed Waltman Brown ware.

Keywords: ceramics, Firehole phase, Uncompahgre ware, Wyoming

In 1983, Metcalf proposed the Firehole phase in his initial chronology for the Wyoming Basin of central and western Wyoming (Metcalf 1987; Zier et al. 1983). This phase was named for the Firehole Basin site (48SW1217), one of the few excavated sites at the time that dated between 1000 and 300 B.P. in the Wyoming Basin. The site was thought perhaps to be representative ofthe terminal prehistoric period. Despite the obvious relationship of the site to the proposed phase, the artifacts have never been analyzed or described in detail, allowing there to be different notions of the nature of the assemblage, particularly the ceramic assemblage. Given the continuing dearth of excavated sites in this time range and dated ceramics in Wyoming in general, the Firehole Basin assemblage remains an important indicator of material culture in this time period. In this paper, we provide a report of the original site investigation and its ceramic assemblage.


The Firehole Basin site is located within the Wyoming Basin, a physiographic province consisting of a series of intermountain basins in the Middle Rocky Mountains (see Figure 1). The Wyoming Basin is at the periphery of two major culture areas (Great Plains and Great Basin), and corresponding archaeological research traditions. Prehistoric and historic cultural developments in this area traditionally have been interpreted as resulting from "influences" or actual migration into the region by groups from the Plains and Great Basin "core" areas (e.g., Frison 1973; Sharrock 1966; Shimkin 1986). Metcalf's (1987) Wyoming Basin chronology was proposed, in part, to stimulate thinking ofthe region in terms of local developments, instead of diffusion or movements from the Plains or Basin.

The Firehole phase, originally defined to extend from 1000 to 300 B.P. (Metcalf 1987), is the terminal prehistoric period of the Wyoming Basin chronology. Its onset was defined to correspond with a pronounced decline in site density, accompanied perhaps by a decline in frequencies of Rose Spring and small corner-notched arrow point styles and an increase in frequencies of trinotched points and Intermountain ware ceramics compared to the preceding Uinta phase. The timing of these changes and onset of the Firehole phase was later adjusted to 700 B.P. by Metcalf (McKibbin et al. 1989).

The Firehole Basin site is about 10 miles southwest of Rock Springs, Wyoming near Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Sweetwater County. It lies at about 6,800 foot elevation, on a low ridge between the Green River and Little Bitter Creek. The ridge is mantled with aeolian sand, and covered with sparse sagebrush and juniper. Surface artifacts, including chipped and ground stone, bone, and pottery, cover an area more than 100 by 50 m in size.

The site was discovered by the late George Babel and brought to professional attention by Mr. Babel and the late Joe Bozovich, both members of the Wyoming Archaeological Society. It was originally recorded in 1976 as Firehole Basin #11 by a crew from Western Wyoming College while they were completing a nearby coal sampling survey (Metcalf 1977). …