Archaeologists Uncover the Past at Heart Mountain

Powell – Archaeologists and volunteers are working to uncover the past at the Heart Mountain Japanese Confinement Site in Northwest Wyoming. Thousands of Japanese Americans were imprisoned there during World War II.

Digging dirt in the hot sun is probably what Japanese Americans did here more than 70 years ago. Almost 14,000 internees lived here during World War II. They were taken from their homes on the West Coast, and kept behind barbed wire by armed guards. They lived in barracks, and they worked the land. They farmed and put the food they raised in root cellars, which are still visible from the Powell highway nearby.

Now, archaeologists and more than thirty volunteers are digging in the dirt and sifting it in the hot sun.

The people who lived and worked here may have left evidence of their daily lives behind. That is what the archaeologists are trying to find.

The Chairman of the Park County Historic Preservation Commission Dr. Larry Todd explained, “We’re digging in the root cellar—and hopefully in the future in other parts of the site—to get a clearer picture of the day to day life. The things that don’t make it into your diary.”

Todd’s team is combing through a collapsed root cellar. We were allowed inside the existing root cellar nearby, but the public is not. It is a 300 foot tunnel, with a car and other items inside. Part of the tunnel is collapsing, so the Heart Mountain foundation hopes to stabilize it for study.

Meanwhile, Todd had no trouble finding volunteers for this study. Archaeologist Dr. Laura Scheiber was doing work on top of Heart Mountain, and decided to bring her team to the fields below.

“We’re interested in the perceptions that people have of Heart Mountain across time and across space,” Dr. Scheiber said, “so the opportunity to participate and help in this project was something I thought would be very valuable for my students.”

Megan Plummer is a student at Western Washington University.

Plummer grinned, “This was a free opportunity to meet people, get field experience, to come to a beautiful place. It’s been a fantastic week. I really have loved it.”

The Executive Director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Brian Liesinger said, “We know a tremendous amount by now about the incarcerees and their lives here, but studying this facet of it more closely will reveal even more to us about it.”

Liesinger runs the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center near the dig site.

He pointed out, “It’s also a community engagement opportunity that brings another point of connection to this important history.”