Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

High Plains Archeological Center - a hidden gem in Pine Bluffs


September 5, 2019

Victoria Smithey/Pine Bluffs Post

Above: Fran Purkey, project leader for the High Plains Archeological Center in front of dig display.

September is Wyoming Archeology Awareness Month, and as luck would have it Pine Bluffs is home to its very own archeology dig. Nestled up in the side of the bluffs the High Plains Archeological Center is one of Pine's hidden gems.

Staffed by tour guide Lucy Waldroupe and project leader Fran Purkey, the site is home to much of the history of Pine Bluffs. Charles A. Reher, University of Wyoming's professor of Archeology and Anthropology grew up in Pine Bluffs, and thought that the area would be a perfect spot for a field study for his students. With the help of the university and the town of Pine Bluffs they started digging here in 1975.

What Reher found was that Pine Bluffs was a completely rare gem. There are very few sites in the world where so many years of history can be found in one area. By the time the university concluded its studies in the early 1990's the dig had gone about twenty feet down, and had evidence of 15,000 years of life, to include a time when the town had used the area as a local dump from about 1880 until about 1915. Say what you will about digging through other folks' garbage, but you can learn an awful lot about people when you see what they throw away.

The early Native Americans that called this area home would come in the summer months to take advantage of the edible plants that grew here including: choke cherries, prickly pear cactus, cat tails, and thistle just to name a few. There were vast herds of buffalo in the area as well that were used as food, clothing, and tools. From about 1870 to about 1880 the buffalo herds were decimated in an effort to encourage the local Native Americans to move to the reservations, but archeologists have discovered arrowheads dating from as early as 11,500 BC to 1800 AD.

Purkey has found the center to be a labor of love as she was the project leader for the entire remodel. With the help of local favorite Natsu Murakami and her daughter Hannah, the three spent about nine months digitizing photos, rewriting descriptions, and mounting all of the displays to give the town a window into the massive amount of history that lies here. The lower half of the dig contains history dating from about 3,000 BP (before present) to about 15,000 BP while the upper half of the dig is a window to the Early Woodland period dating from AD 0 to about AD 1600.

While the center is closed now for the season, it is important to note that teachers wanting to bring classes to the center for tours by appointment need only to call the town offices at 245-3746 to schedule a time. The center itself has no heat or electricity, but early in the school months it is still warm enough to stop in for a visit. Purkey would also like people to know that the parking lot was recently re-done so that there is more parking and areas for larger vehicles to turn around.


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