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Research Goals

At AERI, we focus on understanding mountain ecosystems' cultural, biological, and ecological importance through sound multi-disciplinary research, public education, and inclusive public participation. AERI is partnered PaleoCultural Research Group (PCRG), and the Yellowstone Gateway Museum. Partnerships enable the AERI to reach a diverse array of public participants, mentoring dozens of graduate and undergraduate students, volunteers (members of the public, advocational archaeologists, professional archaeologists), and members of the local and tribal communities.

 

AERI began with its roots in the BEAAR Project, which begins its 7th season of active interdisciplinary research in 2024. The BEAAR Project, founded by Scott Dersam as a master's thesis and dissertation project, has taken public volunteers and interested students into the field since 2018, gathering thousands of data points and diagnostic artifacts.

 

Aside from cultural research, AERI is involved with multiple paleoecological studies ranging from modern biological and ecological diversity surveys, high-elevation ice patch coring, cryosphere dendrochronology, sediment sampling, high-elevation lake sediment sampling, and varied forms of isotopic analysis. These interdisciplinary forms of environmental data collection highlight periods of climatic and ecological change and stability. This research is intended to clarify the multitude of variables that influence environmental change in GYE mountain ranges and their surrounding ecosystems over the Pleistocene and Holocene. Through this work, we hope to generate cutting-edge research on multiple facets of human behavioral and cultural responses to these phenomena in mountain ecosystems.

 

The cultural data discovered by this work has broadened our understanding of mountain use within the central Rockies, the Yellowstone Plateau, and potentially globally. In 2022, the BEAAR Project discovered North America's oldest known mountain-associated sites, the only concentrated associations of the Clovis techno-complex in a high-elevation montane setting. The Mountain Home site, the Sheep’s Path site, & the Shady Grove site are each Clovis culture localities make up the paleo landscape  in high elevation places within the GYE. These sites fundamentally change our understanding of the earliest confirmed populations on the continent, enabling the investigation of a new facet of the Clovis culture—high-elevation seasonal landscape use.

 

Other notable discoveries include the only known high-elevation Late Paleoindian (~8,000 – 10,000 years before present) stone tool cache in Montana, the highest-elevation ceramic manufacturing site in the GYE, the highest elevation occurrence of ceramics in Montana, and the highest-elevation stone occupation and hunting features in Montana. Some of these features are the highest known stone circles in the Continental US.

Research Projects

The primary research area of AERI is in the Beartooth Wilderness of southwestern Montana. We currently have four ongoing annual projects investigating the high-elevation ecosystems of the GYE focused on the Beartooth Range, the Bridger Range, the Tobacco Root Range, and the Gallatin Range of southwest Montana.

Currently, AERI is diving into our newly discovered Clovis localities. These sites offer a unique cultural proxy for testing our current understanding of glacial retreat and regrowth during the Late Pleistocene. To assess the association of these 12,000 – 13,000-year-old sites and the rate of retreat of the Pinedale Glacier, the AERI is conducting a thorough paleoecological reconstruction of the sites' immediate glacial cirques. This will be accomplished via lake sediment coring, soil DNA extraction, isotopic analysis, terminal glacial moraine boulder rind cosmogenic BE10 dating, OSL dating, radiocarbon dating, obsidian hydration, drone-assisted LIDAR mapping, and GPR subsurface mapping.

 

The AERI is also looking to the future, creating research and student learning opportunities beyond the alpine ecosystems of the GYE. We are preparing for multiple upcoming research venues in other Montana plains and Rocky Mountain ecosystems. In 2023, the AERI began researching in the Bridger Range of southwest Montana, with plans to begin geophysical, ground penetrating radar, and taphonomic studies on the range of potential study areas in the coming seasons.

Publications

Publications comprise multi-focal archaeological analysis aided by spatial, cultural, and bio-ecological variables in the Beartooth Ecosystems High Lakes Plateau. Over the 2020 - 2022 field season, Dr. Dersam point-plotted all of the instances of the 11 floral resources ethnographically known to be used by hunter-gatherers in the GYE. These resources were point plotted over a four-square-mile area with a dense cultural record to clarify the region's edible floral resource patches and patch densities. Additionally, experimental studies on hunter-gatherer mountain landscape use, optimal foraging, and optimal diet breadths were undertaken with these species' spatial data in association with observations and encounters with ranked local prey species (Elk, Mule Deer, Marmots, Bighorn Sheep, Cutthroat Trout).

 

Dersam, Scott W., editor, 2023. The Land of Many Nations: Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology in the Foothills and Mountains of North America’s Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 5 3-4 2023, Journal of Hunter Gatherer Research, Cambridge, UK. ISSN 2056-3264 (a stand-alone special issue on alpine archaeology in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem published under The Journal of Hunter-Gatherer Research, Cambridge, UK, in 2023)

  • Sari Dersam and Scott Dersam, The way of winds: spatial arrangement of archaeological sites and surface wind patterns in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, USA

  • Craig Lee, Michael Neeley, Greg Pederson, Dave McWethy and Elizabeth Horton, Drivelines, Hunting Blinds, Effigies, and Intercept Hunting Strategies In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA

  • Matt Stirn, Rebecca Sgouros and Mary Malainey, Using Lipid Residues to Interpret Past Alpine Diet and Subsistence in Northwestern Wyoming

  • Ethan Ryan, Assessing hunting strategies and ancient mule deer migrations with stable isotope analysis at site 48PA551

  • Scott W Dersam, Sari B Dersam, Halcyon LaPoint & Mike Bergstrom, The other side of the mountain: variability in occupation behavior between interconnected mountain ranges

These publications comprise multi-focal archaeological analysis aided by spatial, cultural, and bio-ecological variables in the Beartooth Ecosystems High Lakes Plateau. Over the 2020 - 2022 field season, Dr. Dersam point-plotted all of the instances of the 11 floral resources ethnographically known to be used by hunter-gatherers in the GYE (Table 1). These resources were point plotted over a four-square-mile area with a dense cultural record to clarify the region's edible floral resource patches and patch densities. Additionally, experimental studies on hunter-gatherer mountain landscape use, optimal foraging, and optimal diet breadths were undertaken with these species' spatial data in association with observations and encounters with ranked local prey species (Elk, Mule Deer, Marmots, Bighorn Sheep, Cutthroat Trout).

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These observations and recorded optimal diet experiments were used with cultural resource locations and artifact densities to illuminate landscape use, changing mountain foraging strategies, and occupation patterning over the Holocene. Figure 3 demonstrates plant and archaeological spatial datasets aiming to clarify occupation patterning and landscape use strategies in the high elevations of the Beartooth High Lakes Plateau during the Late Prehistoric period. Figure 4, further touches on occupation patterning by demonstrating the use of wind patterns to clarify human behavior in habitation choice.

Grants Received

  • Heritage Stewardship Enhancement Grant-USFS-Region 1.

    • $20,120.00 Research grant received on 4/18/2023 for the project “High-Elevation Investigations, Part 3: Investigating the Role of Alpine Ecosystems and Resources in the Prehistory of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”.

    • Summer of 2024-2025

 

  • Heritage Stewardship Enhancement Grant-USFS-Region 1.

    • $25,120.00 Research grant received on 4/18/2020 for the project “High-Elevation Investigations, Part 3: Investigating the Role of Alpine Ecosystems and Resources in the Prehistory of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”.

    • Summer of 2023-2024

 

  • Heritage Stewardship Enhancement Grant-USFS-Region 1.

    • $25,120.00 Research grant received on 4/18/2020 for the project “High-Elevation Investigations, Part 2: Investigating the Role of Alpine Ecosystems and Resources in the Prehistory of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”.

    • Summer of 2022-2023

 

  • Heritage Stewardship Enhancement Grant-USFS-Region 1.

    • $20,180.00 Research grant received on 5/18/2019 for the project “Assessing prehistoric landscape use and archaeological patterning in the alpine regions of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

    • Summer of 2019-2021

 

  • The University of Wyoming-NPS Research Station and the Grand Teton Association

    • $5,000.00 Research grant received on 5/1/2019 for the project, “Behavioral Complexities at High Elevation: Assessing Prehistoric Landscape Use as a response to climate change in the Alpine regions of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” 

    • Summer of 2019

 

  • The Frison Institute- Alpine Archaeology Fund

    • $1,800.00 Research grant received on 4/26/2019 for the project, “Behavioral Complexities at High Elevation: Assessing prehistoric landscape use and behavioral patterning in the alpine regions of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” 

    • Summer of 2019

 

  • The Frison Institute- June Frison Memorial Grant

    • $1,000.00 Research grant received 10/22/2018 for the project, “Behavioral Complexities at High Elevation: Assessing prehistoric Landscape Use and behavioral patterning in the alpine regions of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

    •  Summer 2019

 

  • Heritage Stewardship Enhancement Grant-USFS-Region 1.

  • $10,000.00 Research grant received on 7/25/2018 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”

  • Summer of 2019

 

  • George C. Frison Masters Scholarship

  • $1,000.00 Scholarship received on 4/28/2018 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”

  • Summer of 2018

 

  • Jason C. Reher Memorial Fund

  • $2,500.00 Research grant received on 4/24/2018 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”

  • Summer of 2018

 

  • The Frison Institute-Patrick Orion Mullen Fund

  • $1,500.00 Research grant received on 4/24/2018 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”

  • Summer of 2018

 

  • Utah State University-Funding from Dr. Dave Byers

  • $1,000.00 Research grant received on 2/22/2018 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”  

  • Summer of 2018

 

  • The Frison Institute-Alpine Archaeology Fund

  • $1,200.00 Research grant received on 10/6/2017 for the project, “Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.”

  • Summer of 2018

Professional Organizations

  • Current Vice President of the Montana Archaeological Society (Scott)

  • Member in good standing with the Wyoming Archaeological Society (Institute)

  • Member in good standing with the Society of American Archaeology (Institute)

  • Member in good standing with the PaleoCultural Research Group (PCRG) (Institute)

  • Affiliated Researcher and Educator with the PaleoCultural Research Group (Institute)

Annual Reports

  • 2024 - Early Paleoindian Mountain Use: Initial reports from ongoing Investigations at high-elevation Clovis sites in the Beartooth Mountains, MT. (Primary Author) (Oral Presentation). To be Presented at the 2024 Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans, LA. April 2024

 

  • 2023 - Investigating a new facet of the Clovis Culture (Primary Author) (Oral Presentation). To be Presented at the Park County Museum, MT. November 2023

 

  • 2023 - Investigating a new facet of the Clovis Culture (Primary Author) (Oral Presentation). Presented at: 2023 Meeting of the Montana Archaeological Society, Bozeman, MT. April 20 – 22, 2023

 

  • 2023 - The Mountain Path: Foraging Strategies and Inter-species Symbiosis in the Beartooth Mountains, Montana. (Primary Author) (Oral Presentation). Presented at:  2023 Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Portland, OR. March 29th, 2023

 

  • 2021- Sealed in Time: Targeted Test Excavations in a Holocene Lithic Scatter Adjacent to an Ice Patch in Southeastern Yellowstone National Park. (Secondary Co-Author) (Presentation). Presented at: The 5th International Frozen Pasts Conference, Pray, MT. September 7-10, 2021.

 

  •  2019-Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.  (Poster). Presented at: The annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. April 12. 2019

 

  • 2019- Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.  (Oral Presentation). Presented at: The Montana Archaeological Society annual meeting, Butte, MT. April 26-28. 2019

 

  • 2018- Dynamic cultural landscape use: Alpine site probability testing in the Northern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness of Wyoming and Montana.  Presented at: The Frison Institute Board annual meeting, Laramie, WY. September 21. 2018.

Annual Reports

Standard 501c3 annual reports available to the board members and non-profit members to view the progress and yearly projects the AERI has been working on.

  • 2024 (Forthcoming)

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