Domestic Campsites and Cyber Landscapes in the Rocky Mountains

By Scheiber, Laura L.; Finley, Judson Byrd | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Domestic Campsites and Cyber Landscapes in the Rocky Mountains


Scheiber, Laura L., Finley, Judson Byrd, Antiquity


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Stone circles on the Northwestern Plains

'You have perhaps noticed on the northwestern plains, circles of stones or small boulders, varying in size from twelve to twenty and more feet in diameter. They were used to weight down the lower edges of lodge skins, to prevent the structure being blown over by a hard wind, and when camp was moved they were simply rolled off the leather' (Schultz 1907: 63).

Stone circles, or tipi rings, are recognised as one of the only forms of preserved native domestic architecture on the North American Plains. Prior to the historic use of wooden stakes as tent pegs (Wissler 1908; Grinnell 1923), Plains Indians often used stones as tipi weights, especially in areas with plenty of rocks (Hind 1860; Grinnell 1892; MacLean 1897). Once the tent was removed, the stones stayed in place, preserving the footprint of the dwelling (Figures 1 and 2).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In an area like the Great Plains, that is dominated by archaeological discussions of Palaeoindians, bison hunting and animal butchering (Frison 1991), tipi rings are one way to study a wider range of hunter-gatherer activities. Stone circles allow archaeologists to determine social and economic organisation, use of space, ideology and daily lives (Reher 1983; Banks & Snortland 1995; Oetelaar 2000). While researchers recognise the potential of stone circles to contribute to larger anthropological research questions (Kehoe 1958; Davis 1983), these features have often been dismissed because they frequently lack associated artefacts and reliable chronological control. For example, only 1% of nearly 3000 stone circle sites in the state of Wyoming in Scheiber's (1993) thesis were securely dated. We believe, however, that stone circles constitute a rich source of information that supplies abundant archaeological data while also linking contemporary native people to their history and cosmovision through oral traditions (McCleary 1997; Oetelaar & Oetelaar 2006; Noble 2007; Zedeno 2008).

In this paper, we present a case study from the high-altitude desert at the western edge of the North American Plains (Figure 3). Nomadic hunter-gatherers occupied this region for thousands of years and left behind numerous indicators of their campsites, preserved as rock rings throughout the Rocky Mountain West and interior prairies. At Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (BICA) the sites form archaeological landscapes that are continuous throughout the 485[km.sup.2] of the park and provide a perfect opportunity for the study of settlement. This work primarily uses a noninvasive surface mapping technique, with minimum impact on the sites themselves.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Stone circle archaeology

Nearly 4000 stone circle sites have now been documented in the state of Wyoming, with densities as high as 2.5 sites per square mile (Wolf 2008: 36). The sites are most often encountered and recorded through Section 106 (of the National Historic Preservation Act) compliance, although a few researchers continue to emphasise stone circles in their long-term investigations (Oetelaar 2003; Dooley 2004; Knapp et al. 2008; Reher & Weathermon 2008). The enthusiasm of the early 1980s, as to the anthropological potential of surface domestic stone architecture (Davis 1983), has dwindled in the published literature, and Section 106 contractors often write that nothing further can be learned from single sites (Scheiber 1993). These reports typically lack quantitative data that could be used for comparative purposes. Measurement and reporting are not standardised, and feature maps are often not provided. The perception that stone circle sites have limited research potential is based on low artefact frequencies, the shallow nature of deposits and difficulty in identifying associated groups of structures, i.e. settlements (Dooley 2004; Wolf 2008).

New recording guidelines have been established in the state of Montana (Montana State Historic Preservation Office 2002) and are being developed in the state of Wyoming (Wolf 2008), in order to improve data quality and consistency. …

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