In the early 1970’s, the route for Interstate Highway 90 was surveyed across the southern portion of the Vore ranch. The original intended route of the east bound lane would have passed over the north rim of a large sinkhole requiring that the hole be filled and compacted with enormous quantities of earth.
Sinkholes are by their very nature, unstable and the highway engineers were rightly concerned that the bottom might subside further and collapse the highway into the sinkhole.
To determine the stability of the site, the Wyoming Department of Transportation created a crude road into the sinkhole and used a small rig to drill several holes in the bottom. Almost immediately the drill brought up quantities of buffalo bone. A decision was made to move the interstate south of the sinkhole and to notify archaeologists from the University of Wyoming (US) that a cultural site of unknown size and importance had been discovered.
The Google Map photograph above shows the Vore Buffalo Jump sinkhole sandwiched between the access road and I-90.
To determine the horizontal extent of the site, Reher and his crew created two excavation trenches that essentially formed a large “X” across the floor of the hole.
To determine the vertical profile of the site, they excavated a 3 meter by 3 meter shaft.
This effort proved that the Vore Site is in fact massive: Bone and cultural materials extend throughout the sinkhole almost 200′ in diameter.
The bone and artifacts that were removed went primarily to the UW where they are still used in research and teaching. The excavation units were backfilled and no further excavation occurred for over 20 years.
Charles Reher used the volumes of data obtained from the initial excavation as the basis for his doctoral dissertation at the University of New Mexico and later returned to UW to assume his present position as Professor of Anthropology.
Reher and others have published numerous technical papers based primarily on materials collected in the 1970’s and Reher is still the principle scientific investigator at the site.
A Wonderful Gift To The World
For six years, the only excavation available for display was the 3 meter by 6 meter unit created by the UW Field Schools in the mid-1990’s The unit was protected only by a flat, sheet metal cover with doors that could be propped open and by a plastic canopy for shade. Very limited additional excavation occurred during those years and the associated exhibits were very limited in size. Nevertheless, for the first time in decades the Site was open to the public and thousands of people were able to observe the artifacts in situ and have the archaeology and history explained to them.”
Unfortunately, the University had funding limitations and other priorities and was unable to create the Center within the time period.
Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF)
The VBJF is small and has very limited resources, but it has succeeded in making site improvements each year. Most importantly the VBJF has sponsored interpretive programs to visitors each summer since 2004.
The Foundation is actively working to establish permanent facilities with the goal of creating a world-class research, education, and cultural center at the Vore Site.
A new, asphalt-covered parking lot was completed in September, 2007 with funding from the Wyoming State Division of Tourism and the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
A visitor center cabin was opened in the summer of 2008. A building to protect and expand the excavation unit was erected during the summer of 2010.
Since the new building was constructed, additional excavation has taken place each year and new signs and exhibits have been added. The excavation unit now displays at least seven levels and has nearly tripled in area.
A new building, shaped like a tipi opened in 2013 with a number of new exhibits and restrooms.