Before Yellowstone: Native American Archaeology program hosted by Yellowstone Gateway Museum

Douglas MacDonaldThe Yellowstone Gateway Museum in Livingston hosts “Before Yellowstone: Native American Archaeology in the National Park” on Wednesday, April 13 with Douglas MacDonald, Department of Anthropology professor at the University of Montana. This is the second Yellowstone Perspectives program, a free virtual speaker series held on Wednesdays in April. Participants can register for any or all of the Zoom programs at Programs are uploaded to museum’s YouTube channel after the live virtual event.

Since 1872, visitors have flocked to Yellowstone National Park to gaze in awe at its dramatic geysers, stunning mountains, and impressive wildlife. Yet more than a century of archaeological research shows that the wild landscape has a long history of human presence. In fact, Native American people have hunted bison and bighorn sheep, fished for cutthroat trout, and gathered bitterroot and camas bulbs here for at least 11,000 years. Twenty-six tribes claim cultural association with Yellowstone today.

Douglas MacDonald tells the story of these early people as revealed by archaeological research into nearly 2,000 sites, many of which he helped survey and excavate. He describes and explains the significance of archaeological areas such as the easy-to-visit Obsidian Cliff, where hunters obtained volcanic rock to make tools and for trade, and Yellowstone Lake, a traditional place for gathering edible plants. MacDonald helps participants understand the archaeological methods used and the limits of archaeological knowledge. From Clovis points associated with mammoth hunting to stone circles marking the sites of tipi lodges, Before Yellowstone [the program and book of same title] brings to life a fascinating story of human engagement with this stunning landscape.

Douglas is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana. Since 2006, his research at UM has been focused on the Native American archaeology of Montana, Wyoming, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 2018, the University of Washington Press published Before Yellowstone: Native American Archaeology in the National Park. This book provides an overview of the last 11,000 years of Native American use of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Douglas has published other titles, including Montana Before History (2012, Mountain Press), Yellowstone Archaeology, and Lithics in the West.

The third program, “The Dynamic Floor of Yellowstone Lake: The Last 14,000 Years of Hydrothermal Explosions, Venting, Doming, and Faulting” with Lisa Morgan, scientist emeritus for the US Geological Survey is on April 20. The final program is on April 27 with Katie Christiansen, editor of The Artist’s Field Guide to Yellowstone: A Natural History by Greater Yellowstone’s Artists and Writers. Featured artists DG House and Jenni Lowe-Anker, and writers Elise Atchinson, Todd Burritt, and Karen Reinhart will also participate.

Visit Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for program updates or contact Karen Reinhart, 222-4184 or