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4. The Archeology of Mummy Cave, Wyoming: An Introduction
to Shoshonean Prehistory.
Wilfred M. Husted and Robert Edgar
Few archeological sites provide a look into a broad section of the past, exposing in one awesome
stroke, the splendor, the magnificence, and the mystery of cultural successes and failures over long periods
of time. This is because, in part, by their nature, most of the things people make, the material expressions
of values, thoughts, and beliefs, do not last long. Processes of erosion and degradation work against
them. Typically only a few enticing bits and pieces are all that remain, often incomplete, and almost always
disappointingly deficient when one considers what might have been preserved. Occasionally, however,
the archeologist is provided with a view that exceeds our imagination and dreams. Mummy Cave is
one of those rare and wonderful sites -- lovingly appreciated, but much of it unknown and hidden from
our full view for nearly 40 years. This volume brings to life a wonderful picture of the material culture
and history of mountain dwellers during the past 9,000 years.
My charge here is to briefly describe why Mummy Cave is important to archeology-why the publication
of this volume is cause for archeologists to celebrate. My principal qualification for this assignment
is the simple fact that my period of participation in North American archeology coincides with the 34-
year span since the publication of a Science article on Mummy Cave (Wedel et al. 1968). I began undergraduate
study at The University of Montana in 1969 and immediately developed an interest in North
American prehistory. Mummy Cave was considered from the time of publication to be essential reading
for students with my interests.
In the years since the original publications (Wedel
et al. 1968; McCracken 1978), the need has grown for a more complete
account of excavation
results. In recent years, most students of Rocky Mountain and
adjacent Plains archeology cite the two early Mummy Cave reports to support
their interpretations of regional
prehistory. Some even have an "underground" photocopy of this volume. Others mention the
Mummy Cave point sequences using secondary and tertiary sources. However, it is dismaying to me to
see that a number of archeologists trained in the last twenty years, have never seen an original copy of the
McCracken report more much less the "underground" photocopy of this volume.
The work that follows is an amazing document. It meticulously records the details of changes in
material culture at one of the best-excavated cave sites in the northern middle Rocky Mountains. Susan
Hughes (1988:46) noted the importance of these details when she wrote:
Additionally, it remains amazing for the sheer richness of the artifact assemblages and the high level
of preservation of organic materials. Excavators recovered thousands of items. The collection is coherent
and provenienced -- a rare combination for one of the largest collections of northern middle Rocky
Mountain artifacts available for research. The importance of this is that we always feel more comfortable
when our theoretical debates rest on a firm base of well-excavated material remains.
Mummy Cave also is a surprisingly valuable site for the kinds of anthropological questions it raises.
In 1968, archeologists in western North America were looking for well-excavated sites that illustrated
systematic change in artifact form through time (mostly projectile points), and Mummy Cave filled the
bill admirably. For example, as Wil Husted relates in this volume'spreface, he and Oscar Mallory were two archeologists trying to bring order to a rapidly accumulating western North American database
(Husted 1968; Mallory 1968). Elsewhere, Husted (1995:38) explains the important role of sites like
Mummy Cave in that search for order:
Archeologists like Husted and Mallory were working in an intellectual setting that provided great
amounts of information, but largely barren in organizing principles and answers to questions of human
adaptations and social heritage. Basic point sequences in the region had been worked out in a series of
more limited excavations, but the larger picture that contemporary archeologists now work with every day
had yet to be worked out. Sites like Mummy Cave provided that larger picture.
As we have seen, Husted'sanalyses have led him to a series of contributions that have touched on
basic issues of the nature and extent of prehistoric human occupation in the Plains. Others have also used
the well-defined sequence to further their own ideas about culture history, social identity, and population
ecology. For example, others, mostly working on the Great Plains, have tried with varying success, to
construct culture histories for their region in part on the basis of observations made on Mummy Cave
materials (Frison 1978, 1991; Reeves 1969, 1978; Hofman and Graham 1998:113).
There is another aspect of North American archeology as viewed through Mummy Cave that warrants
discussion. Mummy Cave has provided an invaluable source of information for archeologists interested
in studying the relationships between the languages and social identities of people producing material
culture, and the formal characteristics of the artifacts and features themselves. The title of this volume
clearly suggests the importance of Mummy Cave to investigations undertaken by archeologists like Husted,
who groups collections of artifacts into larger units that correspond in one way or another to distinctive
languages or societies. Husted used an extremely detailed analysis of sites published in 1995 to pose a
culture-historical relationship between Shoshonean or Utaztekan ancestors and McKean complex archeological
materials (1995:68). Mummy Cave clearly plays a pivotal role in establishing this relationship:
Husted's 1995 article was originally written in 1968. In it he provides a full description of his Western
Macrotradition concept. Another version of his proposed relationships is found in Chapters 11 and 12 of
this volume and, of course, contributes to the importance of this work.
This volume provides an important record of excavation that focuses on what is in many ways the
premier archeological record in the region. Mummy Cave's position of importance has not changed in the
past 40 years. I think it is safe to say that this volume also sets the stage for continued, more refined,
hunter-gatherer research taking place today as the artifacts and remains continue to yield new insights.
Many of the observations and kinds of laboratory techniques we now consider commonplace have been
developed since the 1960s. Archeologists like Susan Hughes (1988, 2001) and Richard Hughes (2001) are
accordingly taking a fresh look at the collections and are providing new ideas. Wil Husted, of course,
continues to explore the wealth of information from Mummy Cave seeking answers to questions that vex
archeologists working with regional similarities and differences in comparing the archeological records of
the Great Basin, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains.
Now that so much time has gone by since the original excavations, my fondest hope is that we can
benefit from a wide range of modern perspectives, and can view the delay as perhaps even useful. We
know more today than we did yesterday, and I hope this volume will present a valuable perspective of our
knowledge of the Mummy Cave people's past to the reader of today and the student of tomorrow.
My final argument for the importance of this volume is grounded in my belief that because of wellexcavated
and well-reported collections like Mummy Cave, we can afford to conserve other archeological
sites for future advances in research methods and techniques while building new theory. North American
archeologists have learned important lessons from this project -- lessons that will be added to and passed
on to future generations. Future use of the information contained in this volume will undoubtedly fill in
more details of the bare outlines of culture history. Just about all archeologists agree that it is desirable to
know more about major shifts in human cultural behavior, and this information must come from detailed
analysis of materials from excavated sites like Mummy Cave.
In conclusion, as a scientific document the publication of this volume is extremely important. Its significance
lies in the fact that it is the best primary record of Mummy Cave and its large assemblage of excavated
artifacts and the excavations date to a time that was a formative period in American archeology. Excavations
of this scale are simply not common in the region. The Mummy Cave excavations forcefully shaped
both archeological debates and insights into past human life. We still wrestle, albeit with more knowledge,
with the meaning of Mummy Cave and the role of the Rocky Mountain ecosystems in the prehistoric
West. I enthusiastically look forward to future contributions that undoubtedly will come from making
these Mummy Cave data more accessible and applying them to such problem areas as population dynamics
and the social interactions of people from the major cultural traditions in western North America.