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Final destination of flute discovered in Range Creek remains undecided

By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher


Archaeologist Jody Patterson sets up a GPS unit to record the position of the flute extracted from Range Creek in mid-December. After analysis of the coordinates, it appears the artifact was discovered on BLM property rather than on state land as was originally thought.

The flute extracted by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources archaeologists last month in Range Creek lies in wait at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum to become acclimatized to the humidity and temperature of storage.

While the flute acclimatizes, the parties involved in the removal process are waiting to learn what the final destination of the relic might be after it was recently revealed that the artifact was actually in situ on United States Bureau of Land Management property rather than on state land.

"We still have it here," said Reese Barrick, CEU museum director. "But the big question right now is about its location being on BLM land when it was found. It looks like, according to the GPS coordinates that were taken, that it was on federal land."

The flute, which is suspected to be a relic of the Fremont culture which inhabited the Range Creek area 800 to 1,200 years ago, was found last fall by a DWR conservation officer who was patrolling the canyon. It was embedded in a crack that was a short distance from a habitation site. Once he reported it to officials the decision as to what to do about it was bounced back and forth between officials from various agencies.

But with the advent of the holidays, with many people off of work and then Tuesday being named a day of mourning for former President Gerald Ford, it has been hard to have a complete conversation between local, state and federal officials about what to do.

"We have had some short conversations with a few people, but the holidays have gotten in the way of making any type of decision," said Barrick. "It was on BLM land then it will be under BLM jurisdiction."

While the flute may have been lodged in the rocks for 1,000 years, officials were concerned about what could happen to the relic during the winter or until seasonal snows closed the canyon.

After the discovery, DWR personnel contacted the individuals involved in the purchase and creation of the Range Creek protection area three years ago.

When the state secured the money to purchase the area from rancher Waldo Wilcox, few officials realized the cultural heritage that existed in the canyon. It was originally purchased as an area for fishing and hunting because Wilcox had preserved the property as it was in the early 1950s when he purchased the land.

But as state officials started to survey the property, they found an area filled with relatively untouched sites from the Fremont culture. Today, the canyon is considered one of the most untouched areas of its kind in the world, with more than a thousand documented Fremont habitation sites.

Officials were concerned about removing the flute properly and placing it in the right location to be viewed by the public.

Fremont Indians

•Fremont is the name given to a group of Native Americans who lived primarily in Utah from 400 A.D. to 1350 A.D.
•There are two theories about where the people originated.
One theory speculates that the Fremont were a split off group from the Anasazi who lived farther south. The second theory is that they were descendents of the older desert archaic culture that existed in the West years before the Fremont appeared.
•The Fremont culture is divided up into five groups by archaeologists.
The groups include the Great Salt Lake Fremont, the Uinta Fremont, the Sevier Fremont, the San Rafael Fremont and the Parowan Fremont.

Duncan Metcalfe, the lead archaeologist for the University of Utah, was invited to the removal of the flute. Neither he nor a representative of the U of U came to the site when the flute was extracted.

But the DWR had a staff chaeologist and two experts from Montgomery Archaeological Consulting who removed the flute from the cliff side.

One thing that will not be done until experts are sure the flute is acclimatized is estimating the relic's age with a process such as Carbon-14 dating. The process is a way of determining the age of artifacts of a biological origin up to about 50,000 years old. It is used in dating things such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers that were created in the relatively recent past by human activities.

The process gauges the decay of radioactive particles in once living objects. Because scientists know the rate of decay, they can judge the age of an object fairly precisely.

But there are drawbacks to using Carbon-14 dating. One is the fact that it is a destructive process in that at least part of an object must be given up and destroyed in the testing.

"It used to be that it was fairly destructive because of the sample that was needed to do the testing," stated Barrick. "But now only microns are needed to get an accurate reading."

In actuality, no one knows for sure how old the flute is until this is done.

A museum press release on Dec. 19 said the flute possibly "represents promise of a one-of-a-kind find that provides a unique window into the unexplored role of music in the Fremont Culture."

As for its final resting place, that may be revealed in a short time. Barrick says he expects to have some substantial conversations with the BLM before the end of the week about the situation and the ultimate destination for the instrument.






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