History of Wilson Butte Cave Excavations
Uncovering Links to the Past
Archaeologist Ruth Gruhn led two excavations at Wilson Butte Cave in 1959-60 and 1988-89, which uncovered evidence spanning thousands of years. Each new discovery has brought archeologists one step closer to understanding early Idahoan people and solving mysteries of prehistoric American lifestyles.
Archeologist Ruth Gruhn (back, in the hat) and the 1959 excavation team.
Excavation of 1959
The deposits of Wilson Butte Cave were reportedly undisturbed until spring 1958, when amateur discoverers from Shoshone uncovered this unique link to the past. The original site excavation began on June 6, 1959 and continued throughout the summers of 1959 and 1960. The excavation was led by Ruth Gruhn and was a joint effort of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University and the Idaho State College Museum.
Excavation of 1988
Thirty years later, in 1988, Gruhn returned to the site to learn more about the prehistoric cultural relationships with the Great Basin culture to the south and the Great Plains culture to the northeast. The second excavation was conducted from May to June 1988 and from June to July 1989. Gruhn addressed questions from archaeologists about findings from the first excavation: questions about the definition and dating of the earliest occupation of the cave, and the cultural identity of the late prehistoric occupants. See site map
New Discoveries in the 1988 Excavation
Through the second excavation, Gruhn determined that Wilson Butte Cave has remnants of both Shoshone and Fremont cultures. She also reaffirms her earlier conclusion that the earliest human occupation was most likely around 14,000-15,000 years BP (before present
). A variety of archaeological methods
were used to date artifacts in excavations.
Getting to Know Ruth Gruhn
In addition to her research at Wilson Butte Cave, Gruhn has a widespread archaeological background. Gruhn first pursued her passion for Idaho archaeology during her graduate studies at Radcliff College and earned her Ph.D. in anthropology. She completed 48 years of fieldwork at digs in the North American states of Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New York and California, as well as in Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Brazil.