Biggest wildfire in park history may have left ancient treasures

Berry Fire of 2016 burned 20,825 acres.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Wildfire has several ecological benefits. Forests fires have been natural-occurring events since long before man arrived on the scene. What is left in the aftermath is new growth, of course, and altered habitat.

Another ‘benefit’ of fire is one archeologists have only recently begun to enjoy. Fire can expose a treasure trove of artifacts and other signs of ancient civilizations. In fact, since 2003, wildfires have uncovered some 600 previously undocumented sites with more than 160,000 artifacts in Wyoming.

Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologists arrived at the Shoshone National Forest in 2003, shortly after a blaze there torched 11,000 acres. The finds they made astounded scientists. In 2006, the Little Venus fire on the Shoshone revealed more of the same. And again in the summer of 2011, when the Norton Point fire burned 23,000 acres in the Washakie Wilderness of the Shoshone NF, archeologists made significant finds including a campsite on Caldwell Creek in the Absaroka Range believed to be used by a people predating the Shoshone some 2,500 years ago.

A chance to get involved in the next great dig

An opportunity to explore the backcountry of Grand Teton NP—to see it like few ever do and to take part in a professional archeological survey—is available for volunteers this summer.

Breelyn M. Van Fleet, archaeologist and tribal liaison for GTNP, will be organizing three expeditions—July 10-16, September 11-17, and September 24-30—in order to survey and catalogue sites burned in the 2016 Berry fire. It was the largest fire in park history.


  • physical ability to walk on rough terrain for 8 hours/day, carrying a pack, water, food, and other necessities
  • week-long availability preferred for the September 11-17 session
  • back country experience
  • personal transportation for use on rough roads (4WD recommended)
  • personal camping gear (limited campsites available)
  • prior experience with archaeological surveys preferred

Interested? Email or call 307-739-3643.?