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New CEU Curator is a Picture Of Enthusiasm

Sun Advocate publisher

Renee Barlow examines a core that was taken from a wooden support in a grainerie in Range Creek. Barlow can use these cores to count tree rings, and then compare them to moisture charts to determine the year the structures were built by the Fremont culture.

If there was ever anyone that was enthusiastic and excited about a new job, it is Renee Barlow.

Barlow, the new curator of archaeology for the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, bubbles as she talks about the artifacts, studies, papers and field work she is doing for the college. In her job only about two weeks, she already sees the possibilities.

"I have worked in Range Creek for six years with this being my seventh," she stated in her office at the museum. "That was with the University of Utah. Now I get to work for the CEU museum and I am excited about all the new things we can learn."

For Barlow, the archaeology of Range Creek is considered to be a lifelong obsession, one she glady accepts. Grants from the National Science Foundation and National Geographic has helped through her work and she says those grants will follow her into the things she will be doing now as well.

But as excited as Barlow is about working at the musuem, she knows the nuts and bolts of running a program aren't always fun. Like any job it has things that aren't the most entertaining or interesting, but are things she must do.

Born in New Jersey and moving west in the early 1980's she got her bachelors degree from BYU and both her masters and doctorate from Utah. She has taught at Salt Lake Community College, Utah and at Weber State University. But her passion is obviously with the Fremont culture and what is being learned out of the biggest and most untouched treasure trove of archaelogical artifacts and sites concerning native peoples in the United States.

"Over the last six year we have located and recorded 144 graineries in the canyon," she stated. "That is the largest number of Fremont graineries that have been found, in fact I think it may be the most found for any culture."

Interestingly, Barlow is an expert on dating these graineries and other structures found in the canyon by utilizing the wood that was used in constructing them. And most of that dating has not been done by carbon dating.

"I take core samples of the supports and cross braces or other wood we find that was used in the construction," she said. "From that we can compare the tree rings on the core with the drought/wet year cycle that we have a record of and we can determine when they were built."

She has extracted 280 core samples so far. Her work in this area is done in conjunction with the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree Ring Research.

One of the problems that archaeologists have is that what they do can be destructive to the sites they are trying to garner information from. Sometimes they have to make a decision about digging up a site they know may hold valuable information today, or let someone else dig it up years from the present when the technology and techniques will probably be better for evaluating what is found there. Barlow's way of dating is very non-destructive because she doesn't have to, for instance, cut an entire brace in half, but can core sample it while it still stands or lays in situ. And by doing these time dating samples she has learned that in many ways, the Fremonts were not that much different from us in their thinking.

Renee Barlow holds an example of tree ring specimens from Range Creek.

"See this graph," she said as she pointed to a multi-color line graph that depicts the drought/wet year cycles from 323 B.C. to the present day. "As we compare the tree rings to these different patterns we have learned that the Fremonts did most of their building of graineries during drought cycles."

For many people that would be the reverse of what is expected. It would seem in good harvest years the Fremont would have had more corn to store so that is when more graneries would have been built.

But instead it appears they were reacting much like we do in modern times; their planning only came after a catastrophe had already taken place.

Barlow also talked about seeking out the graineries in her last six years, and the problems associated with that.

"I had to learn to climb and use ropes," she said. "I was lucky because a lot of the training I got was from a National Geographic climber who was an expert."

Barlow says the studies done in the canyon have already uncovered 80 farming villages and 120 rock art sites.

She and everyone else connected to the canyon know there is a lot more than that to find, and artifacts could be in some very unusual places, like the flute found by Alan Greene, a wildlife officer for the Division of Wildlife Resources found in 2006.

"That flute was a great find and it definitely appears to be Fremont," said Barlow. "It is a one-of-a-kind so far. Presently the Bureau of Land Management (who's in control of the property on which it was found) and the Hopi tribe are in consultation over the flute."

Barlow looks forward to working with field school students as soon as the weather allows a return to Range Creek.

"I drove up Horse Canyon a few days ago just to look at the road," she said.

There was a little too much snow for her to go very far, but the near future was still on her mind.

"I love working with the people in the field school because they have such diverse backgrounds. We get people from the east who have never even camped out overnight to people who have lots of experience working on sites for long periods of time," she said. "Some of the local kids really challenge me because of their knowledge of the Fremont archaeology because they have been around it most of their lives."

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