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Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Signal Butte

Signal Butte
Signal Butte
National Park Service

Signal Butte rises 120 feet above the North Platte Valley southwest of Gering, Nebraska. Signal Butte is significant as the first American Indian site of the middle pre-contact period in the Central and Northern Plains that archeologists investigated. Because of its archeological importance, the site has long been an area of investigation by the University of Nebraska, Columbia University, and the Smithsonian Institution. The dating and interpretation of archeological deposits have been controversial. The site served as both a habitation and a workshop area during three different time periods and is a rich source of valuable artifacts.

Thomas L. Gren of Scottsbluff first reported the site to William Duncan Strong of the University of Nebraska Archeological Survey in 1931. In the first excavations in 1931 and 1932, archeologists found three distinct habitation levels and uncovered storage pits, shallow fireplaces, and numerous artifacts such as sandstone or pumice grinders, hammerstones, pestles, shaft polishers, quartzite projectile points, and bones. The site proved to be important for its long stratified record of human activity.

The butte is capped with a thick mantle of gravel and windblown soil. This layer contains three distinct cultural horizons, separated by sterile soil. The approximate ages of the occupations are 3000-2000 B.C., 1000 B.C.-A.D. 500, and A.D. 900-1700. The oldest occupation is attributed to the Middle Plains Archaic period and is a component of the McKean Complex, a diverse culture widely distributed across the northern and western Plains during the period 3000-1000 B.C. Following a prolonged drought on the Great Plains, pre-contact peoples during this period developed sophisticated hunting and foraging techniques. The second group to use the site was possibly a non-pottery-producing extension of the Woodland people. Artifacts recovered from this Late Archaic period stratum include projectile points, drills and gravers, and bone awls. Within the last millennium, unrelated Upper Republican and Dismal River Apache peoples occupied the butte leaving a large amount of pottery at the site.

Plan your visit

Signal Butte is located southwest of Gering, NE. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Because it is a fragile archeological site, the site is not open to visitors.

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