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Front Page » March 5, 2009 » Carbon County News » Researchers examine flute discovered in Range Creek
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Researchers examine flute discovered in Range Creek

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When the flute found by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officer at Range Creek in November 2006 was recovered from a crevice, there was speculation about its age and origin.

After two years of study and examination, it will still be about six months before archaeologists will know the minimum age of the instrument, or about when it was placed in its wilderness resting place.

"It will take about that long to come up with the results of the test we are doing on it now," said Tammy Rittenour, an assistant geology research professor at Utah State University who has been using optically stimulated luminescence to determine the age of the instrument.

Answering that question will help archaeologists figure out which group of people that populated the canyon during the ages put it there.

"We believe it is one of three groups of people that could have owned that flute," stated Renee Barlow, the staff archaeologist at the College of Eastern Utah Museum in Price on Monday. "It could have come from archaic peoples, it could be from the Fremont culture or from a Numic tribe, a group of people that are the ancestors of today's Utes."

Archaic peoples populated the area about 3,000 years ago and created the Barrier Canyon rock art that is seen in various places in southeastern Utah. The rock art that is closest to where the flute was found is Barrier Canyon art.

The Fremont inhabited the area as long as 1,000 years ago, and a granary that was found just around the corner from the flute was of Fremont design and construction.

Finally, the Numic tribes came into the area about 500 years ago, and the flute could have been made and put there by one of their members.

"The present day Ute flutes are quite different from the one we found, but that really means nothing," said Barlow. "Things and the way people make them change, so it wouldn't have to be like more modern flutes for it to be Numic."

Despite the fact that things change and technology advances in many cultures, most people involved with the flute have felt it was of Fremont origin all along; now that question will be answered more succinctly.

There are many ways to date organic and inorganic objects.

Since the flute is made of organic wood, it may seem that carbon dating would be the best way to decide its age. But carbon dating is a destructive method that basically destroys part of an artifact. Modern carbon dating techniques use less of a sample than older processes.

But it still requires some cutting or slicing to get the sample needed to test for dating purposes.

In conjunction with analysis and research by experts from the Hopi Nation, the decision was made to use a dating procedure called optically stimulated luminescence.

The technique uses a system of detection based on non-organic substances and the last time they were exposed to sunlight.

The flute was situated in a crevice where it was standing nearly upright. The wind and moisture moved sand and other substances into it.

The substances eventually built up inside the flute and were kept from sunlight exposure.

So by using the technique instead of evaluating the flute material, the filler has become the hour glass.

"Some of the material inside was loose," said Rittenour, the director of the luminescence lab in Logan. "Some of this material came from air fall and some from water."

Rittenour explained that she often works with much larger samples, but believes the tests will result in some good results.

Optically stimulated luminescence dating (OSL dating) and photo luminescence dating (PL dating) can be used to typically date materials from a few hundred to 100,000 years.

The method can be reliable when suitable methods are used and proper checks are done.

The accuracy obtainable under optimum circumstances is about 5 percent.

The age of the material will help establish which group of people probably made the flute and when it was placed inside the crevice.

"This was the most significant find in this area since the Pilling figurines were discovered," said Barlow . "The flute is a one of a kind; the only one ever found."

The figurines were found in 1950 by Clarence Pilling in Range Creek.

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