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Front Page » July 13, 2004 » Local News » Fremont Findings: Ranch Creek findings expected to help i...
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Fremont Findings: Ranch Creek findings expected to help in understanding Fremonts

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The Fremont story is really a Utah story. It's a story of a culture of farmers who settled throughout most of Utah about 1000 years ago. Archaeologists have been trying to understand this prehistoric people for years by interpreting the material remains they leave behind. These material remains, such as stone tools, pottery, bone scrap, collapsed buildings and charred seeds are all related to behavioral characteristics.

There are many excellent sites throughout Utah where archaeologists have gleaned out information about how the Fremont culture lived. One of the areas that archaeologists have been studying is Range Creek. Although no excavation has been done, the site has long been known in circles of scientists that have been studying the ancients. Recently the quality and quantity of information was made public for the first time in history . The past couple weeks thousands of newspapers and magazines, along with television and talk shows have been discussing Carbon and Emery Countys' secret.

Archaeologists are now documenting 225 Fremont culture sites that stretch roughly 15 miles along Range Creek on the old Wilcox Ranch in Carbon and Emery counties. The condition of the many pit-house sites, hundreds of adobe granaries and countless panels of rock art etched in stone and painted on walls archaeologists a unique opportunity to study how these ancient people managed to survive in the harsh environment of the Colorado Plateau.

Kevin Jones, Utah State archaeologist, has been working with a number of other groups gathering information about the Fremont people. "They (the sites) have been nicely preserved and will round out the picture of the Fremonts," he stated, explaining that one of the incredible features of the Range Creek findings is the fullness of the findings and the fact that the area was also home to their villages, fields and hunting camps. He compared the findings to studying one's life today and feeling that by going to someone's home or office would be enough to understand how a person lives. "This gives us a chance to look at the entire picture of how this group of Fremont's lived."

In explaining how the information could aid to or even change current data, Jones explained that dozens of intact granaries still have wood covering them and these all have tree rings. Once they make the determination of the tree ring chronology they will be able to determine the exact year they were constructed.

Knives found in Fremont villages.

These granaries are storehouses made of dried mud and sticks where corn, beans and squash were kept, key to their survival. In some of the granaries in the Range Creek area corn cobs with the grain eaten off are still found in the granaries. Archaeologists believe as many as 500 Fremont people lived in this area until they vanished about 750 years ago.

Fremont presence in the area has been known for decades. A visit by a Harvard University team in the early 1930's studied 20 sites and the findings in 1950 of the Pilling Figurines, all give hints of how the Fremonts lived. Jones also said that in at least one of the granary sites that the Peabody group examined parched grass seed was found and archaeologists today have located all 20 sites that the Harvard group identified, some 80 years later.

The Piling figurines are a collection of 11 small unbaked clay figurines were sculptured by prehistoric Indian artists of the southwest for use in religious ceremonies, as goodluck charms or amulets or perhaps simply as works of art. Some of these are on display at the CEU Hisotric Museum in Price.

New excavations and research in the last few years has increased the knowledge about the Fremont Culture. Archaeologists know that virtually all of Utah, except for the extreme southern and northern portions, was basically Fremont from approximately 500 to 1300 AD, but they tend to hassle about the terminology used to describe the variations. Jones said that the teams, which also include a group of students from the University of Utah, are cataloging indexing and recording the findings. "Excavation is a ways off," he said.

These peoples subsisted at least in part on domesticated crops, such as corn, beans, and squash. All of these peoples derived from earlier Basic-Plateau Archaic groups, but influences from aboriginal groups as far away as the northern Great Plains and the southwest are apparent. All these groups share a number of technological and adaptive characteristics such as pottery, bow and arrow, domesticated cross and settled villages.

Bowls and containers tell the story of this ancient culture.

The Anasazi culture existed in the extreme southern and southeastern portion of the state and has been studied more extensively than any of the other agricultural people of Utah. About 600 years ago, due to a combination of climatic factors and possible poor landuse practices, the population and spatial distribution of the Anasazi was dramatically reduced and these people were no longer found in Utah.

The Fremont culture was very similar to the Basketmaker groups of the Anasazi cultures, and some experts feel they may well have had the same origin. The culture was found on the Colorado Plateau and is characterized by small villages made up of semi subterranean slab-lined dwellings and small, multi-room storage structures situated on knolls overlooking streams. The people were dependent primarily on corn agriculture, but they hunted extensively to supplement their diet.

Competition of other groups ushered in later periods may have contributed to the disappearance of the Fremont and the withdrawal of the Anasazi cultures. Over the span of the last 2500 years the intensity of occupation has varied tremendously in response to social and environmental pressures. During the Archaic period the population of Utah apparently was extremely sparse while less that 1500. Years later it had ballooned to as many as 500,000 people during the latter Fremont periods.

Jones said that the state archaeologist office is working closely with Division of Wildlife Resources and other agencies on a management plan. One of the items of high importance to Jones is the protection of the sites from either looters or the general public who sometimes takes a site like this and "loves it to death." He was making reference to the general population as stepping on valuable findings, picking them up, and in general defacing a project as it's being studied.

Range Creek for centuries has been protected from the outside world by steep craggy peaks, while the canyon valleys are dotted with cottonwood trees, box elders and stands of junipers, this incredible rich piece of land is now on display for the world to see as archaeologists work against time to dig out and record information that ultimately will lead to further understanding the ancient Fremonts.

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