Home >> Visitor Information >> Area History

Early Settlements

Native American hunting and gathering parties valued the plain's resources as shown by archaeological evidence including stone tools, ancient campsites and pictographs.

People have lived on these lands for more than 10,000 years.

Area History

The Department of Energy (DOE) is only the most recent inhabitant of the desert on which INL sits. Prehistoric campsites, historic homesteads, roads and canals are evidence of earlier inhabitants. The INL Cultural Resource Working Group, which includes historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and representatives of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and DOE, works to identify artifacts on the site and to protect and preserve their integrity.

1. Earliest People

People have lived on these lands for more than 10,000 years. Native Americans, specifically Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, continue to value the natural and cultural resources of these lands. The Idaho National laboratory Site lies within the aboriginal lands of the Shoshone and Bannock people. Tribal members and the U.S. Department of Energy partner to protect the significant resources found here. Segment 1 shows figure drawings that are unique to this area and a photo of 1900s Shoshone, courtesy of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

2. A Source of Obsidian

Big Southern Butte was frequently visited by Native American groups. It was a source for obsidian, a volcanic glass used for arrow and spear tips. Archaeologists have found the Butte's unique obsidian at sites throughout Idaho, Montana, Utah and as far away as California's Joshua Tree National Monument. Today, the Butte and surrounding landscape remain spiritually important to the ancestors of these groups, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

3. The Oregon Short Line

The Oregon Short Line freight train at the Arco depot in 1912, 11 years after the line was completed. (image courtesy of ISU Library Special Collections Dept. A.L. Lillibridge Collection)

4. Ancient Lake Terreton and Big Southern Butte

Throughout most of the Pleistocene epoch (about 1.8 million to 10,000 years before present) a large shallow inland lake and surrounding streams and wetlands provided abundant resources for the plain's nomadic people. Mammoths, camels and other Ice Age fauna were abundant. The lake and Ice Age mammals disappeared when the climate changed about 10,000 years ago. Mud Lake is the modern remnant of the ancient lake. The harsh conditions on the plain discouraged most long-term settlement. Big Southern Butte was a clear waypoint. In the 1800s, travelers headed toward Fort Boise would often take the Goodale Cutoff, an Oregon Trail shortcut. They would leave Fort Hall on the Snake River and travel toward the Butte's sharp silhouette, passing to its north. An 1878 stage from Blackfoot to the copper mines near Mackay and Challis followed a similar route. Later, the Oregon Short Line Railroad followed the same route.

Page Contact Information:

Department of energy

DOE Office of Nuclear Energy
DOE-Idaho Office
Battelle