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Museum of Idaho to take tour group to local archaeological sites


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IDAHO FALLS — The Museum of Idaho is gearing up to take local ancient history lovers on a trip to explore a local archaeological site.

The museum is hosting a field trip to the Wasden-Croft Archaeological Preserve this coming Saturday. The trip provides a unique opportunity for archaeology buffs to explore the site and connect with people who inhabited east Idaho in the distant past.

“This site is significant in that it has some wonderful evidence of early human interaction with some of the early mammoth and bison that were in this region,” Museum of Idaho Curator Carrie Anderson Athay told “We’re going to be able to take some folks out to the site and discuss the need for preservation on these archaeological sites and talk a little about what has happened at that site.”

The trip is the result of a partnership between the museum and the Archaeological Conservancy, who purchased the site some time ago. The goal of the trip is to not only provide the public with an excellent opportunity to learn about the lives of ancient Idaho residents but also to raise awareness of the importance of working to preserve such sites.

“This opportunity for the public to go out is a very rare opportunity because the site is owned and administered by the Archaeological Conservancy,” Athay said. “Because their mission is preservation, we’re not often able to take groups of people out there.”

The site itself consists of three collapsed lava tubes. Inside the tubes, evidence of all kinds of activity has been found, including bison drives. The practice of bison driving (also called a buffalo jump) involves herding a bison into a cave or off a cliff so it can be processed by people.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence of bison drives in this area,” said Athay. “But these bison drives go back thousands of years.”

The caves have also yielded evidence of mammoths from 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

“With that mammoth evidence, there’s also evidence that humans were interacting with that mammoth and processing their bones,” Athay said. “Whether it was the site of a drive where the humans drove the mammoth into that cave or they came across the mammoth by chance, that’s something (researchers) are still looking into determining.”

“It’s kind of exciting that we have all this really great research that’s been done and will be done on this site,” she added.

The trip will open with a showcase of artifacts and fossils that the museum has collected from the site since excavation began back in the 1960s.

“A couple of archaeologists who are doing some current work on this collection will join me in showing pieces from the collection and talking about its history,” Athay said. “So we can learn a little about that and then we’ll learn about proper manners and etiquette at the site.”

From there, the museum will bus attendees out to the site for a guided tour led by Idaho National Laboratory archaeologist Suzann Henriksen.

Athay said people who visit the site will learn fascinating facts about ancient Idaho residents.

“We have this really cool example of humans interacting with their environment and using their environment to their advantage,” said Athay. “The bison weren’t aware these tubes were there, so the humans could use them to trap them.”

This is the first year the museum has offered this trip. Attendees paid $80 for the tour, and it sold out quickly. Athay hopes to offer this and other similar events to the public again in the future.

“We’re hoping that next year we’ll again be able to partner with the Archaeological Conservancy and offer a couple more of these tours,” she said. “We really think it’s important for people to understand our history, our environment and to be able to learn from this home-grown story that is on the cusp of scientific exploration and very important to understanding our past.”