Pictograph Cave

National Historic Landmark

A National Historic Landmark since 1964, Pictograph Cave provides an important window into the lives of Montana’s early hunter-gatherers. It is equally significant to the history of Treasure State archaeology. People used Pictograph Cave—and the neighboring Middle and Ghost Caves—for at least five thousand years. Ancestors of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe, which has lived in the region since at least 1700, likely created some of the pictographs; forebears of other tribes also left their mark. Early inhabitants painted over 100 images on the walls. The earliest painting—of a turtle—is over two thousand years old. More recent paintings, approximately two hundred years old, depict a flintlock gun and riders on horseback. European-imported guns and horses made their way to the Northern Plains through the tribes’ vast trade network. Other evidence of that trade network includes the fragment of a 1370-year-old coiled basket, which resembles those made in the Great Basin. Thousands of other artifacts include stone, bone, and wood hunting and gathering tools, pottery fragments, plant remains, and jewelry. The caves’ archaeological excavation began in 1936, during the dawn of Montana archaeology. The Works Progress Administration funded the excavation as part of a New Deal program to boost employment during the Great Depression. Amateur archaeologist Oscar Lewis directed the project until 1941, when professional archaeologist William Mulloy took charge of the excavation. In 1951 he published the first definitive archaeological report about the Northwestern Plains, mostly based on materials found at the caves. Recognizing the site’s scientific and cultural importance, Montana added Pictograph and Ghost Caves to its state park system in 1969.

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3401 Coburn Road, Billings, MT 59101 ~ Public