Reconstructing Paleodiet and Environment in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem:
The Jackson Hole Archaeological Initiative (JHAI), the archaeological research department of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, seeks to expand our understanding of prehistoric life at high altitudes throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Surveys in the Teton Range have identified over 30 prehistoric sites ranging from the Cody Complex through Late Prehistoric period. Currently there exist difficulties in interpreting how, why, and when prehistoric groups occupied the alpine zones throughout Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains. As such, a main goal of the JHAI is to use scientific approaches and paleoenvironmental data to paint a more detailed picture of alpine life. The project is currently refining a non-destructive method for analyzing absorbed lipid residues in order to reconstruct diet. This study has been successful in identifying a variety of plant and animal food-items in groundstone and soapstone artifacts from the high Tetons. Highlights from this study have included soapstone bowls with a mixture of fish, large mammal, roots, and berries, and groundstone with huge quantities of Whitebark Pine nut residue.
It is hoped that this lipid project will provide dietary information that is otherwise difficult to infer from standard alpine archaeological excavations. In addition to JHAI’s paleodiet efforts, the team is currently working to reconstruct the regional paleo-environment in hopes of providing a context for the archaeology. This approach is multi-faceted and currently draws on data acquired from icepatches and an alpine lake core. As climate change progresses, organic artifacts and paleobiological specimens are melting out of the ice. This provides a relatively new record for interpreting prehistoric alpine cultures, ecology, and climate in the region. JHAI is currently analyzing several pieces of wood and bison remains from icepatches across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Additionally, a lake core, extracted in 2015, represents 18,000 years of climate history and is being analyzed through pollen, algae, diatoms, and soil chemistry data. The JHAI looks forward to analyzing the results of these studies and continuing to expand their efforts in future seasons.