Obsidian, a valued rock used to create razor-sharp points for weapons and tools, is located about 20 miles to the northwest at Obsidian Cliff. The lake area contains a variety of flora – everything from camas to wild onions – that would have created a great stew or to create medicines. And there was plenty of wildlife in the region. One archaeological site turned up blood residue from bear, wolf and deer as well as rabbit sinew.
“The lake area was clearly an important warm-weather hunting and gathering grounds for Native Americans from all over the northwestern Great Plains, northern Great Basin and northern Rocky Mountains,” MacDonald said.
His group’s explorations are part of the university’s Montana-Yellowstone Archaeological Project, which is now entering its fourth year. The partnership offers students the opportunity to perform field work while Yellowstone receives inexpensive research help.
This past summer, MacDonald’s crew made some unique finds. Along the northeast shore, the crew uncovered the park’s first Early Archaic hearth, dating to 5,800 years ago.
“The feature indicates that Native Americans used the park during the hot and dry altithermal climate period,” MacDonald said.
The Altithermal Period followed the last ice age, after large mammals like woolly mammoths had become extinct. Yellowstone Lake, during that time, would have been a huge oasis drawing people, and wildlife, from throughout the region.