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Buttes Provide Glimpse into Eastern Idaho's Past

eastern Idaho's distant past, if you know what to look for.

Today, the Arco desert is a sparse expanse filled with sagebrush, dust and few humans. But that's a relatively recent development. For some 13,000 years — until the turn of the last century — the area was lush and home to a thriving economy.

"It's deceptive to see it so dry and desolate today," Idaho National Laboratory archaeologist Brenda Ringe Pace said. "But water really does transform the landscape . back then this was a huge wetland that was a magnet for people, wild game, migratory birds and fish."

For thousands of years, Native American tribes — the ancestors of today's ShoshoneBannock Tribes — lived here as migratory hunter-gathers during the spring and summer months.

The evidence of their existence is scattered across what today is the site of Idaho National Laboratory. Federal protections on the land have safeguarded many of those archaeological sites from vandalism that has occurred at other Idaho historic tribal sites.

"Many of our ancestral sites are already gone due to looting or people bringing artifacts home with them," said Carolyn Smith, cultural resource coordinator. "We ar