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By Marcel Kornfeld

Director, George C. Frison Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Wyoming

The Unive Wyoming (UW) Anthropology Department has long been engaged in studying Rocky Mountain Folsom sites. Since the creation of the Prison Institute in mid 1990s at UW this effort has grown. My goal here is to review the prior Folsom studies and discuss the ongoing research of the Prison Institute in the Rocky Mountains.


Since 1970s excavations at the Hanson site in the Bighorn Basin a steady stream of Folsom sites or components has been under investigation. Early studies include at least Agate Basin Area 2, Brewster (Agate Basin Area 3), and Carter Kerr-McGee. More recently the Prison Institute has investigate the Barger Gulch Locality B, Lower Twin Bison Mountain, and a series of surface and shallowly buried sites in the Middle Park of Colorado, as well as the Krmpotich site and Two Moon shelter in Wyoming. We have also returned to Agate Basin’s Brewster Area, Area 2, and have tested between these two localities. A variety of Folsom sites is represented by these studies. Hanson site is a camp and workshop site with a variety of chipped stone production activities as well as domestic spaces, indicated by prepared house floors, hearth placements, and scatters of burned bone and chipped stone. A house floor is also present at the Agate Basin Folsom component in Area 2 with a hearth in the center. These house floors represent the oldest known structures in North America. Agate Basin Area 2 Folsom component and Carter Kerr-McGee Folsom component, however, are bison kill, processing, and camp sites and contrast with Hanson in that the assemblage consists of a large quantity of Bison antiquus remains.


Recent investigations at the Krmpotich Site on the western side of the Killpecker Dune field in Wyoming ed an extensive some campsite with major quantities of Folsom point production. Although little bifacing is seen in the debitage, the reason is that the raw material used or point production, the small cobbles of oolitic chert, are turned directly into preforms, generally just by removing much of the cortex. Michael Peterson has been able to replicate this production sequence while studying the Krmpotich assemblage for his MA thesis at UW. The more than 100 channel flake fragments make Krmpotich one of the largest Folsom projectile point production sites. The camp component of the Krmpotich site shows that a variety of activities were carried on by Folsom groups occupying the ttquus skull. site, such as hide working, represented by scrapers and gravers.

In 1986 Brian Naze showed that the Middle Park of Colorado was heavily occupied in Folsom times and that occupation has been shown to be even denser by Frison Institute’s recent investigations. Based largely on avocational collections without which there would be no Middle Park Paleoindian project, about 40 Folsom locations have been documented in the park. Three of these Folsom localities have been tested—Lower Twin Mountain and Barger Gulch localities A and B.

Gulch Locality B, has yielded a buried Folsom component approximately 50 centimeters below the current ground surface. Locality B is a workshop and campsite less than several football fields away from a source of Troublesome Formation chert. This Miocene age material, colloquially referred to as Kremmling chert, is the most ubiquitous source of raw material in the Middle Park with many of the outcrops of excellent quality, and is the most common source used by Folsom groups. Ninety-nine percent of the artifacts at Barger Gulch Locality B are manufactured from, not surprisingly, Kremmling chert.

At this stage of investigation, the site has produced several artifact concentrations. Although always difficult to interpret, such concentrations demarcate activity areas and in this case probably domestic structures. Extensive refitting studies by John Laughlin in his master’s thesis work at UW and spatial studies by Todd Surovell provide strong evidence for such structures. Barger Gulch Locality B has also produced extensive evidence for in situ replacement of projectile points. In other words, most of the exhausted and broken projectile points are of Troublesome Formation chert as is most of the manufacturing debris. As Surovell and Waguespack of the Frison Institute suggest, this pattern indicates relatively long term use of Locality B, duration of perhaps several winter months.


Surovell futher compares Barger Gulch Locality B to all of the sites mentioned above as well as others to show how different Folsom sites fit in the overall Folsom settlement strategy. This analysis confirms their hunch that Barger Gulch is a long term camp, perhaps occupied for six months in the winter. During that time many projectile points of local material were manufactured, used, and replaced at the site. Some projectile points were manufactured to later preform stages from exotic raw material, and a variety of tools were manufactured, used, and maintained during the occupation. All those activities can be expected in a winter hunter-gatherer village.


Below: Artifact distribution and refits at Locality B of the Barger Gulch site.  Curves suggest the location of a structure.  (from John Laughlin)


Finally, one of the most exciting ongoing Frison Institute projects is Two Moon shelter on the western flanks of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Two Moon is one of the thousands of rockshelters and caves in the central Rocky Mountains, many of which were used prehistorically. The research in the region is an interdisciplinary project designed to understand the use of these natural features through prehistory with a particular emphasis on Paleoindian occupation and shelter use in the process of peopling of the Americas. The study is a group effort by Frison Institute researchers including: George Frison, Marcel Kornfeld, Mary Lou Larson, Robert Kelly, and Judson Finley. Thus far, Two Moon shelter has produced two Folsom projectile points and a 10,050 radiocarbon date, associated with two stratigraphically separated cultural components: Folsom and Agate Basin. This rockshelter is one of a few in North America with an unambiguous evidence of fluted point occupation and the only one with a clear fluted point component, a possible Folsom living floor.


In conclusion, the George Frison Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at UW has recently investigated about a half dozen significant Folsom localities in the Southern and Middle Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. These have yielded tens of thousands of artifacts and a variety of faunal specimens. The data from these specimens are providing a much broader view of Folsom culture patterns and systematics than heretofore existed. Long term Folsom camp use is unusual and suggests a settlement strategy quite different from the high mobility lifeways suggested by some investigations, and adhered to by many others. Continued investigations, especially with sophisticated, high tech, and detailed field methodologies, such as used by the Frison Institute, will show us many new and unexpected aspects of Folsom peoples.