Hell Gap research attracts international visitors


GOSHEN COUNTY – More than a quarter century of research at the Hell Gap archaeological site in northwestern Goshen County is shifting into lab analysis mode as the calendar advances to 2020. 

University of Wyoming students under the direction of archaeologist and UW Professors Marcel Kornfeld and Mary Lou Larson will have an opportunity to evaluate human occupation through time, including the major global climate shift from the Ice Age to current times.

“The Hell Gap Paleoindian site of northwest Goshen County is one of the most significant localities of that age, 12,000-8,000 years ago, in North America,” Kornfeld said. “As of three years ago, the site is a National Historic Landmark, a status that recognizes its national importance.”

Kornfeld said more than 25 years of investigations have yielded important information for interpreting the site and the earliest prehistory of Wyoming and North America.

During the 2019 season, students and instructors were able to excavate through the entire stratigraphic column for the first time in 25 years, providing an opportunity to thoroughly examine long term changes in human occupation. Data analysis should allow researchers to evaluate the intensity and nature of human occupation through time, including the period following a major global climatic shift from the Ice Age to Modern environments.

 “Over the past 25 years we have addressed several questions, one of which is: Did the 1960s excavators of the site get the order of diagnostic Paleoindian artifacts right?” Kornfeld said. “To date we have recovered seven of the nine diagnostic types present at Hell Gap. 

“Especially important in this regard is the oldest projectile point at the Hell Gap site, the Goshen point named after the county, which should be found below all other diagnostic artifacts.”

The Hell Gap site was discovered in the 1950s by two local high school students stranded by a flooding creek who found an unusual artifact and contacted UW personnel. Eventually archaeologists from the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in Massachusetts and the University of Wyoming spent several summers during the 1960s excavating the site.

Interest came to life again in the late 1970s, and the site was purchased by the Wyoming Archaeological Foundation in conjunction with several private individuals in the early 1980s.

In 2018, Hell Gap was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Over the years, Hell Gap has earned the interest and support of archaeologists around the world. A few years ago, it hosted a visit of an international conference of the Suyangge and Her Neighbors organization. Participants included representatives from Poland, Russia, Israel, Great Britain, the United States and more. The visit was initiated by Professor Yung-jo Lee of the Korean Institute of Prehistory.

Summer Hell Gap researchers include international as well as U.S. students and instructors. They earn credit for their efforts, as well as gain knowledge of other societies from world-wide visitors.