The departure of Navajo and Apache ancestors from Subarctic Canada ca. 1200 years ago formed one of
two key vectors in migrations through which Dene or Athapaskan speakers became the most widespread
of the language families in North America. Dene communities extend from Alaska to the Sierra Madres,
yet relatively little is known archaeologically about what is clearly an important story in New World
prehistory. This research explores a key facet of the Apachean expansion through renewed examination
of the Promontory Caves on Great Salt Lake, Utah. These dry caves were first excavated in 1930 by
prominent 20th century anthropologist Julian Steward, who found every manner of perishable item had
been preserved, including hundreds of moccasins, mittens, feathers, cordage and basketry.
Because the Promontory record preserves a broad range of material culture, it is well suited to
explorations of cultural identity. Steward concluded that this archaeological record was likely created by
Apachean ancestors who had formerly been northern bison hunters. He did not have the advantage of
several more decades of research concerning Subarctic, Northern Plains, and Great Basin prehistory in
which there are many indications that Apachean ancestors retained some northern heritage, but rapidly
assimilated ceremonial and material culture from neighbouring societies. This research is providing for a
uniquely North American interdisciplinary project, unprecedented in uniting regional specialists who do
not ordinarily work together.