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Just ahead, you'll see a massive volcanic rock slightly uphill from the road. There's a wide opening at its base called Mummy Cave. One-hundred-and-fifty feet wide and forty feet deep, this is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It's named for the mummy discovered in a well-preserved burial site within the cave just over half a century ago. Nicknamed "Mummy Joe," he had a sloping forehead and black hair and was estimated to have lived some 1,200 years ago. Judging by his decorated sheepskin clothing and other items found with him, archaeologists suspect that he was someone of high status. Mummy Joe and his people were only one of many groups who used this cave over the past 10,000 years. Researchers who excavated the cave in the 1960s discovered 38 distinct layers of human artifacts, indicating 38 different periods of time when prehistoric people occupied the cave. The deepest layer, 28 feet below the surface, dated back to 7,280 B.C. Among the artifacts were hearths; stone knives, arrows and spearheads; wood digging sticks; bone pipes and beads. , There were also large quantities of animal bones, especially from bighorn sheep, suggesting that many of these people were big-game hunters. As time passed between each human occupation, the cave gradually filled in with dirt and rock that had eroded from the surrounding cliffs, covering the individual layers. Protected from weather and moisture, the extremely dry space preserved the artifacts astonishingly well. Even perishable items like animal hides, netting, feathers, basketry and fletching on arrows remained intact over thousands of years. After Cody resident Gene Smith discovered the cave in 1957, archaeologists collected and documented the artifacts from each layer. Digging up these layers was like analyzing the rings of a tree. Using radiocarbon dating and comparisons of different types of artifacts, they could trace which groups of prehistoric people passed through this area at what times. For example, they believe the people who inhabited the cave in 5,630 B.C. came from what is now eastern Nebraska. They used stone blades with side-notched points, which were different from the leaf-shaped projectile points of the previous inhabitants, who presumably had moved north by then. After the excavation, Mummy Cave was filled back in with dirt and rocks. Scientists safely stored its artifacts where they can continue to study them and answer questions about how prehistoric people of the Plains and Rocky Mountains lived. The mummy, originally displayed in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, has been returned to Native American tribes for burial.
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