Skip to comments.Archaeologists Reveal Utah Canyon Filled With Ancient Settlements
Posted on 06/30/2004 8:44:46 PM PDT by nuconvert
Archaeologists Reveal Utah Canyon Filled With Ancient Settlements
By Paul Foy/Associated Press
Jun 30, 2004
EAST CARBON CITY, Utah (AP) - Archaeologists led reporters into a remote canyon Wednesday to reveal an almost perfectly preserved picture of ancient life: stone pit houses, granaries and a bounty of artifacts kept secret for more than a half-century. Hundreds of sites on a private ranch turned over to the state offer some of the best evidence of the little-understood Fremont culture, hunter-gatherers and farmers who lived mostly within the present-day borders of Utah.
Hundreds of rock art panels are scattered across the canyon along Range Creek, some colored in red, white, yellow, black and peach. On one panel, the ancient inhabitants etched spirals and human figures with miniature hands among animal figures.
"Many other places in the West have rock art panels, but hardly one of them doesn't have someone's name scratched across it. That's what makes this place so unique," Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones said.
Archaeologists said the villages were occupied more than 1,000 years ago, and may be as old as 4,500 years.
A caravan of news organizations traveled for two hours from the mining town of East Carbon City, over a serpentine thriller of a dirt road that topped an 8,200-foot mountain before dropping into the narrow canyon in Utah's Book Cliffs region.
Officials kept known burial sites and human remains out of view of reporters and cameras, but within a single square mile of verdant meadows, archaeologists showed off one village site and said there were five more, where arrowheads, pottery shards and other artifacts can still be found lying on the ground.
Archaeologists said the occupation sites, which include granaries full of grass seed and corn, offer an unspoiled slice of life of the ancestors of modern American Indian tribes. The settlements are scattered along 12 miles of Range Creek and up side canyons.
"We've documented about 225 sites, and it's just scratching the surface," Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones said. "There are hundreds of other sites."
Hundreds of granaries, ranging from cupboard-sized to several yards across, are in some cases hundreds of feet up nearly inaccessible cliffs. They offer evidence, Jones said, that the people moved around seasonally and left stores of food.
The pit houses' roofs of cedar and dirt have long collapsed, but Jones said in their day they were "warm and snug in the winter and cool in the summer."
The half-buried houses don't have the grandeur of New Mexico's Chaco Canyon or Colorado's Mesa Verde, where overhanging cliffs shelter stacked stone houses. But they are remarkable in that hold a treasure of information about the Fremont culture that has been untouched by looters.
The Fremont people were efficient hunters, taking down deer, elk, bison and small game and leaving behind piles of animal bone waste, Jones said. They fished for abundant trout in Range Creek, using a hook and line or weirs. In their more advanced stage they grew corn, although cultivation could be risky in dry years or when bears raided stocks, he said.
Waldo Wilcox, the rancher who sold the land and returned Wednesday, kept the archaeological sites a closely guarded secret for more than 50 years.
"I looked at it like this: I wanted to keep it the way it is," said Wilcox, 74, who moved to Green River and retired. "But when I die, I'm not going to have a lot to say about it. I finally decided I'll take a little money and get out now."
The San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land bought Wilcox's 4,200-acre ranch for $2.5 million. The conservation group transferred the ranch to the Bureau of Land Management, which turned it over to Utah.
The deal calls for the ranch to be opened for public access, a subject certain to raise debate over the proper stewardship of a significant archaeological find.
Already, hikers have taken some arrowheads and disturbed others flagged on the ground, said University of Utah graduate student Joel Boomgarden, one of 35 students rushing to complete survey work in the canyon.
The fact that a pristine area rich in artifacts is now widely known will inevitably draw pothunters and "jerks" who trash archaeological sites. There's the pity.
If that shoe doesn't fit, why get your knickers in a bunch?
I have my own bone to pick with academia excluding amatuers (anyone without an institutional grant) from archaeology, or for that matter, paleontology, to a great extent. I'm a geologist, but I can't pick up a tooth on federal land, despite being a professional, despite the fact that, if reported, the fossil will probably be destroyed by the same forces which brought it out of the strata in which it was entombed. I'd rather see it in a shoebox under some kid's bed, well revered, than washed down the creek to oblivion. At least there is a chance it will be studied someday. All this prohibition has done is squelch the budding enthusiasm of the next generation of archaeologists, paleontologists, and geologists. It makes for an unwieldy crop of couch potatoes who think surfing the web is a replacement for being there.
Do I feel this site area is the holiest of holies? No, it is just the abandoned trash and belongings of the previous residents. Not much holy about a trash pit.
Do I think that some knowledge could be gleaned there? Perhaps some insight might be gained if people don't loot the place. The best way to keep that from happening is to keep the lid on the location.
I got my start picking up arrowheads in a tobacco field with my grandfather. Hardly an undisturbed site. Most places have felt the plow, and have lost a great deal of significance as archaeological sites go. This one, apparently has not.
On our survey (with the Federal Government. Oh my, imagine this), we had high school kids from the local school come out and spend a day with each of our survey crews. A few REALLY got into it, and others were more like couch potatoes.
We also invited local metal detector 'amateurs' out to help us with a portion of the Park that had Civil War remains. They really helped us find some very interesting artifacts that our surface survey would not have found. Each crew also had a volunteer who was an amateur. One guy was in his late 60s but he kept up with us 20 year olds no problem. He just had a profound interest in the subject and was one of the best workers as a result. No formal training whatsoever. We all loved him.
As archaeologists we also recorded a number of fossils in the arroyo beds, even though strictly speaking they were more the purview of geology than archaeology. But as with most things we mapped its location (on a topo and using GPS) and details about it, but left it as we found it.
Why someone would go out of their way to destroy such things is beyond me--just to get back at 'academia'? What a stupid reason. You might as well go spray paint some graffitti on a Police Station or something equally intelligent.
Makes me ashamed to share the title 'Freeper' with such a person.
I truely did not mean to direct it at you!
All this prohibition has done is squelch the budding enthusiasm of the next generation of archaeologists, paleontologists, and geologists.
You state things in much more mature way!
Well, I did not imply that I would go out of my way to destroy artifacts. I'm just trying to say that if I'm such a boob, why should I be responsible to hold a distinction between an perfect arrowhead and hunk of limestone? I was just venting my frustration that it is commonly held opinion that the mere public knowledge that an artifact or site exists is "a shame". I don't think an artifact has any more value than the fascination of the observer/collector regardless of his status. Don't tell the great unwashed public not to touch. Teach us and trust us. Pass reasonable laws that preserve the landscape but that don't penalize serendipitous discovery. Don't put up signs that say: "Access Prohibited" but rather put up ones that say: "Protected site, for legal access contact:.....at......". Then prosecute violators vigorously. Prohibitions should be left to private property and Military sites. I don't resent hunting laws because they generally provide a reasonable means for public access. Why can't we provide similar rules for artifacts? I'd buy a license and perform due dilligence/disclosure if I found something interesting and even be willing to surrender it if an item was deemed by an authority to be important. Also, I'm not totally against academia. I think the laws constraining archaeologists from the scientific and careful excavation of ancient burial sites are unreasonable too.
Granted, the difference between modern grafitti and the revered inscriptions on Pompey's Pillar, Independance Rock, and the ancient pictographs is a matter of time and taste. Unfortunately, those who wish to donate their mark to posterity seldom do so now without obliterating their predecessors.
I wouldn't object to names and dates so much were this not the case, but could readily dispense with some of the more explicit characterizations of their peers.
Still, such scratchings are the roots of history, Pompeii and Herculaneum are noted for grafitti in soma quarters. It is the destruction of the existing writing/pictographs to which I object more than the addition of new markings in otherwise unmarked areas.
I worked on an archaeological crew in Bath County, VA, the summer after I graduated from College. We had a very diverse group, a lot of fun, and made a couple of contributions to VA prehistory. I loved it, but continued on to grad school and to the oil industry. The fascination (and thrill of discovery) never goes away.
One of my former professors has been metal detecting for eons, and I believe the metal detector has finally found a (rightful) place in the archaeologist's toolbox. A little careful documentation turns what was once considered relic hunting into valuable data, especially on a battlefield (be careful of unexploded ordnance, though).
I know of an area in Wyoming where dozens of turtle fossils are being disarticulated by erosion and washed away piece by piece. Perhaps they are not paleontologically significant, but at least some could have been recovered more or less intact. Some probably still could be. Permit interested people to come in, show them how to recover, preserve, and reassemble the fossils, and there would be a lot of these in collections, private and public, available for study.
Thanks for the pics. That middle point is a real gem.
Facts like these reveal a governing attitude that does not care for the artefacts but only for it's power over them. Thanks for your patience with my venting.
Depends on the owner and the bucks dangled in front of his nose. If this were in Northern Virginia, it would already have a strip mall and 7,000 homes on top of it.
My grandfather grew up in the desert SW and passed on stories to my mom about Indian ruins he visited around 1915. He told mom the floors were littered with beads, moccasins, bowls, etc.
Only in my dreams can I find any like that. That is a real fine point.
You're welcome. (been there, done that)
Sorry for the late reply--just got back from celebrating Independence Day.
Actually that analogy with a hunting license sounds like a very interesting solution. Getting trained in normal field techniques is not difficult and to me that would be most of the fun for the average person. It would also provide some great contact with the public.
Just updating the list info, not sending a general distribution.
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