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Filling in a ‘blank spot on the map’

Search for ancient South Fork life planned this summer

A Meeteetse researcher will lead a summer expedition to one of Park County’s more remote areas and search for artifacts uncovered by a recent wildfire.

Larry Todd, a professor with a doctorate degree in anthropology and chairman of the Park County Historic Preservation Commission, plans to take a crew of college students to Hidden Basin in the upper reaches of the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

“It’s one of those proverbial blank spots on the map. It’s an area we know nothing about,” Todd told the county commission last month.

“At present, we know nothing about what the past was like” in Park County’s southwestern corner, he said.

It’s possible the area was too harsh for prehistoric people and used only sparsely, but Todd thinks there’s plenty of items to be discovered.

“The reason we’ve never found anything ... is because we’ve never looked there,” he said.

Todd said in a federal grant proposal that the inventory “can help dispel the myth that ‘there’s nothing out there to worry about’” when managing back country areas. The site in question is located deep within Shoshone National Forest wilderness and the project — in partnership with the Shoshone — would include making recommendations for forest management. It will also help the researchers refine a GIS model that predicts where archeological sites may be found.

The Historic Preservation Commission received $18,266 of federal funding Jan. 8 through the State Historic Preservation Office to help inventory the Hidden Basin location. The field work would be conducted over a 10-day period in late July and early August. Six graduate and undergraduate students supervised by Todd and Laura Scheiber — a professor of anthropology at Indiana University — would complete the team. It’ll take about a half-dozen pack animals, 10 saddle horses and six to seven hours for them to get in and out of Hidden Basin.

Todd said the area — which burned the 2013 Hardluck Fire — is ripe for searching. Prior to traveling to Hidden Basin, the research team plans to spend time on lower-elevation, more accessible portions of the burn area in the South Fork drainage. That work also has federal funding in place.

In total, Todd hopes to search some 200 acres over the course of the summer and expects to document more than 10,000 pieces of chipped stone.

Part of the urgency is that wildfire not only makes things easier for researchers, but also looters and artifact thieves, Todd said.

The project would include the creation of a Meeteetse Museum exhibit titled “Heritage At Risk” that would discuss the consequences of artifact theft — such as how even taking small items can stymie researchers’ ability to reconstruct the past.

Without making a simultaneous effort at public education, Todd wrote, “recreational vandalism has the potential to destroy much more than any inventory could document.”

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