by Lawrence Loendorf, Archaeologist
Albuquerque, New Mexico and Red Lodge, Montana
(I have completed sponsored and unsponsored archaeological research in the Pryor Mountain region since the 1960’s)
The Pryor Mountains contain hundreds of archaeological sites that were left by many different groups of people over the past millennia. Isolated mountain ranges, like the Pryors, or the Bull Mountains, are well-suited for groups that practice a hunting and gathering way of life. In large part, this is because hunters and gatherers can take advantage of multiple environmental zones in a short distance. In the Pryors, for example, the groups had access to desert-like settings along the south side while a few miles away they could use the resources of mountain meadows.
Archaeological survey projects, supported by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service and the Crow Tribe, revealed hundreds of different kinds of sites. One of the fascinating things about Pryor archaeology is the different kinds of sites. There are:
— scores of tipi ring sites with as many 50 to 75 rings and one site with more than 200 rings.
— several major quarry sites where a purple-colored chert was obtained from the Phosphoria Formation and other quarry sites with deposits of sugary quartzite. The chert and quartzite were used extensively to make chipped stone tools.
— hundreds of small to large sites with exposed fire hearth remains that are associated with scattered chipped stone debris.
— more than a dozen vision quest structure sites, some with multiple stone structure fasting beds most of which were left by Crow Indians seeking a guardian spirit.
— rock cairns that serve as trail markers for trail systems that allowed access to the Pryors and routes around the Pryors.
— rock cairns that commemorate places where warriors fell in battle.
–a dozen or more pictograph and petroglyph sites.
— the remains of signal fires.
–eight to ten wickiup and crib-log house remains.
—cave and rockshelter sites.
There are some sites that archaeologists do not understand. For example, at one location, the remains of about 20 buffalo had been butchered and placed in an underground cavern. The skulls were apparently arranged around the outer perimeter of the room and the other body parts stacked in the center. Archaeologists do not believe this site represents a place where there was an effort to preserve the meat. Instead, this unusual skull layout and bone assemblage is thought to be related to ritual and perhaps something like the underground cavity described by Plenty Coups in his vision where the buffalo emerge from a cave (Linderman 2002).
Over the coming months, I will try to write about some of these site types. Click on the highlighted text above to see essays on those site types.
Archaeological sites on federal lands are protected by a three or four different laws and unlike the weak protection in the 1960’s, today’s laws have severe penalties and law enforcement officers for the Crow Indian Tribe, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Forest Service are trained in catching pothunters. Many sites are protected by hidden cameras that begin filming when people arrive, so be aware and report suspicious activity to the appropriate land managing agency.