About the Jump

Bison Trap at the Interface
The Vore Buffalo Jump is on the interface between what were once great bison pastures of the northern Great Plains and the Black Hills, making it highly attractive to various groups of buffalo hunters. In about 300 years, the site was used by five or more tribes.

The rich cultures and fascinating history of the Plains Indians developed around the immense bison herds and grasslands and of western North America.

Many Native American groups believe the Black Hills have spiritual properties as well as important material resources.

Varves Help Date the Site
Events at the Vore Site can be dated with precision that is unprecedented among archeological excavations in part because the annual layers of sediment, called varves, that washed into the sink hole can be counted much like tree rings.

When combined with other dating techniques, these varves allow scientists to estimate the dates of “jumps” at the site with amazing accuracy. The varves also provide evidence about weather cycles, ecological change, and other factors of interest.

Bones and Stone Artifacts
The Vore Buffalo Jump features enormous quantities of bone and stone artifacts that are perfectly preserved in discrete, precisely datable layers and held in place within a natural bowl.

Within the site are the butchered remnants of as many as 10,000 bison as well as thousands of chipped stone arrow points, knives, and other tools. The materials are contained within 22 cultural levels that extend downward to a depth of nearly 20 feet.

Much Yet to Learn..and a Great Place to Learn it
Because only about 10% of the Vore Buffalo Jump has been excavated, there is potential for decades of scientific research in several different disciplines…archaeology, tribal ethnohistory, zoology, geology, and paleoclimatic studies. Dozens of technical papers based on data from the Vore site have already been published. Just as the Black Hills attracted Native Americans, visitors from around the world are fascinated by Plains Indians. Because it is literally a stone’s throw from one of America’s busiest highways, the Vore Buffalo Jump is also the most accessible of the major Plains Indian sites to the traveling public. The Vore Site thus provides a perfect physical context for illuminating Plains Indian culture and history and presenting it to visitors.

The photo shows an excavation unit at the Vore Buffalo Jump with some of the more than 20 layers of bison bone and other artifacts. The photo was taken during the post-discovery survey in 1971.

The variety of arrow point styles and stone types found at the Vore site provides inferential evidence that the “Jump” was used by multiple tribes.

Modern Rediscovery
The Vore family homesteaded in the Redwater Valley in the late-1880’s. The extended family farmed part of the land and grazed livestock on the remainder.

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.

Aerial View of Vore Buffalo Jump

The Google Map photograph above shows the Vore Buffalo Jump sinkhole sandwiched between the access road and I-90.

Initial Excavations
In the summers of 1971 and 1972, Dr. George Frison brought a crew of archaeologists from UW to excavate the Vore Site. The crew was lead by then graduate student Charles Reher.

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.

View of actual dig at Vore Buffalo Jump

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
In 1989, the family of Woodrow and Doris Vore agreed to donate 8.25 acres that included the sinkhole to the UW with the stipulation that it be developed as a research and education center with 12 years.

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)
In 2001 the property was transferred to the non-profit VBJF which is committed to realizing the Vore Site’s incredible potential for scientific, educational, and cultural programs and to making the site available to visitors from all parts of the world.

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.