Mummy Cave represents the silence of the Sheepeater Shoshone. Little evidence of human occupation can survive this close to the river. The bank is low and rocky, with a thin deposit of alluvial soil, from the present shoreline to the angle of the ridge, where the ruddy breccia and tuff rise acutely, providing a rockface where the erosive action of the frigid mountain water could lap over eons at the igneous wall to form a shallow overhang. Camp placement in this proximity to a river was likely common, making use of a broad level riverbank to live close to water and fishing, in a spot low in the valley where the winter is milder, but other riverside sites lack the unique utility of this one for use as a dwelling place; similar camps would usually be exposed to rising water levels, washing the record of the majority of them away. Before this overhang, a pile of rubble from the crumbling rock wall forms a protective barrier from rising water, and a deep depression behind this scant relief feature would have, at one time, formed a windbreak. The protection became diminished with the passage of time over the 9000 year history of human occupation of the locality, as the deposition of detritus on the cave floor progressively truncated the windbreak, perhaps necessitating the building of a travois-style lean-to to make use of the dry cave floor despite the mountain breeze. Although the accommodations were shrinking, access to the space became easier over time; the earliest deposits are three stories down, at the bottom of a shaft this artist posits may be an occluded sinkhole that carried water into the fractured "joints" in the surrounding rock. The authors of "Mummy Cave: Prehistoric Record from Rocky Mountains of Wyoming" say this process facilitated drainage, resulting in the quality of preservation of organic materials found at the site.

Wedel, Husted, and Moss (1968) state that Mummy Cave, on the North Fork of the Shoshone River, was occupied discontinuously from approximately 7000BCE to 1200CE. Excavation revealed separated strata of animal bone, leather, charcoal (available for use in carbon dating for about half of the 38 levels), plant fiber perhaps used as netting, and flint points. In a layer of strata dated to 750CE, approximately two meters below the surface, were discovered the remains of a human, mummified by the cold dry air of the Absaroka Range, and clothed in sheepskin. Sadly, some of the more detailed archeological metrics of osteology available for providing context to the life of the deceased are not included in the Wedel, et al. report, nor is this artist aware of the location of the remains.

This site, bearing a rarely-surpassed archeological record of the past reaching back millennia, like many archeological wonders in America, is not widely known. There are those who would argue that, for the sake of preserving the dignity of the status of the site as a grave, this site, and others like it scattered across America, should be shrouded in a deliberate pall of mystery.

This rendering of Mummy Cave is drawn with vine charcoal on paper. Though this site does not itself contain charcoal drawings, this medium was intentionally used to reflect prehistoric artistic technology. The style is impressionistic, as the piece was created from the artist’s memory, allowing the artist to convey the importance, through detail and size, of significantly memorable foci. These impressions have allowed the shallow curvature of the cave wall to fill much of the picture plane, diminished the size of the fence to reflect its inadequacy at restricting movement into the cave space, and allowed for the inclusion of a nearby keyhole feature and a gestural hint at the Beartooth Range which rises behind the cave to the north. The piece was created at the artist’s home in Ishpeming, Michigan.

Work Cited

Wedel, W., Husted, W., & Moss, J. (1968). Mummy Cave: Prehistoric Record from Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. Science, 160(3824), 184-186. Retrieved November 7, 2020, from https://nmu.idm.oclc.org/login?f3auth=RegularLogin&url=https://www.jstor.org/stable/1724081

Class Associated With Work

Environmental Communication


Communication and Media Studies


Art and Design

Document Type

Creative Work

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