By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
When photographer Kyle Jennings of Jackson came across a stone circle in Gros Ventre mountains, he thought perhaps he’d stumbled upon something ancient.
Turns out not so much, unless sometime between 2017 and 2021 could be considered ancient history.
However, there are circles of varying ages scattered across Wyoming, University of Wyoming archeology graduate student Dan Garner told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. Some have known origins and purposes. Some remain mysterious.
New, But Intricate
After Jennings posted images of the Gros Ventre circle on Facebook, somebody sent him satellite images, he said in text messages to Cowboy State Daily. The satellite photos show the remote plateau being vacant as recently as June 2017, and the circle showing up in an image from last October.
Jennings said he first spotted the circle on Google Earth in May and recently made a hike to the location. He and his friend, Jake Gore, took ground-based and aerial drone photos of the circle, which was built from light-colored stones of various sizes.
Whoever built it must have invested considerable time and effort, Jennings said.
“There is a lot of loose rock up there along the cliff’s edge, which is where they would have most likely grabbed them from,” he said. “What struck us was the near perfect form and the intricacy in which the stones were laid. Sure, it could be done in one day, but by a small group.”
He added that the circle is “strange” because of its remoteness. The nearest water source is hours away.
Age Sometimes Hard To Determine
Known ancient medicine wheels and other stone circles have been found across Wyoming and other locations in the Mountain and High Plains West, Garner said. More possible artifacts are frequently discovered.
“I get people coming up to me saying, ‘There’s one over here, there’s one over there,’” he said.
Some, such as the famous Medicine Wheel atop the Big Horn Mountains between Lovell and Sheridan, date back at least 2,000 to 3,000 years, Garner said.
Controversy recently erupted over an aerial photograph of that site, which several Native American tribes regard as sacred.
Other Indigenous circles date back 200 to 1,000 years, Garner said. Some of those might be old teepee circles.
“When and important person died, they would keep their teepee circle, and then build lines radiating out from it,” Garner said.
Other stone circles in remote locations might have built in the 20th century by the Army Corps of Engineers, which used them as helicopter landing pads, he said.
And still others may have been built during a surge of “New Age” spirituality during the 1960s, Garner said.
Mystery Outside Of Laramie
Garner is now involved in research on a wheel that was found in a remote location near Laramie in the early 2000s. It hasn’t been determined how old it is or what its purpose might have been.
Researchers have interviewed many longtime residents of Laramie and the surrounding area, but nobody seems to recall anything about it.
“Just because somebody had not seen it until recently doesn’t mean it’s not old,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out if it’s from the ancient Indigenous or just New Age hippy stuff.”