Archaeological teams must remove all artifacts carefully. The tendency is to see one in the ground and pop it out, but that could damage the piece. Great care is take to preserve every clue and to mark the spot where they came from.
Volunteer Marvin Evans screens soil removed from the dig looking for the smallest of artifacts. Sometimes the little pieces that the team finds leads to large clues at Range Creek.
Archaeologists in Range Creek are learning more about the people who lived there an eon ago every year they dig and probe around in Range Creek.
One of the things they have learned is that the Fremont Indians were not an isolated people only living in the canyon and not going outside its immediate area. Objects found during digs and exploration are proving that relations with other groups from the Uintah Basin to New Mexico were not only probable but fact.
"This is what we would call a tertiary flake or maybe even a bi-facial thinning flake," said Renee Barlow, curator of archaeology at the College of Eastern Utah Museum as she held a recent find during a media visit to a dig in Range Creek that she is conducting with the help of volunteers and students. "It probably came off a big core and looks like chert from the Skyline Drive area. This probably came from the Joe's Valley alcove and they brought it down to do processing. Since the head waters of the San Rafael River are in Joe's Valley, it probably came down the river to the Green River and then back up to here. There are a half a dozen routes it could have traveled to be here in Range Creek."
Barlow says that archaeologists have found quarries in Joe's Valley and have found more than 10,000 pieces of chert much like what she held in her hand in that area.
"Had this piece popped off a little bigger from the main piece of stone, it could have been used as a projectile point or even for some kind of tool," she said. "This is how they made their tools. We have also found red chert which comes from a quarry in the San Rafael Desert."
Does that existence prove that the Fremont were trading with other groups from the Wasatch Plateau? Or does it mean they sent out parties to ferret out this kind of stone for tools and projectile points? That could be disputed, but at least one piece of evidence from the dig does in all probability prove trade with another group, one very far away. It is a piece of jewelry made from turquoise.
"This was found at the 1,000 year old floor level (the team had discovered two levels in the dig, one 1,200 years old and the other 1,000 years old)," said Barlow as she held a clear plastic container with the small gem laying in the middle of it. "This is from New Mexico or Arizona and probably came through some other groups up the Green River corridor."
The site where these artifacts appeared is a site that was surveyed in 2003 or 2004. Barlow said that at the time she was in on the survey and that they were using students and professionals from the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College to do it. At the time they were surveying from the top of the (Waldo) Wilcox parcel to the bottom.
"We had crews on either side of the roadway because I thought that is where the biggest impact would be," she said. "We found artifacts that had washed down; some aplique pottery that had washed down the hill and some projectile points in a little drainage. There looked to be some dwelling sites down there, but then we found this ring of rocks which surround the front of the dig now. That looked suspicious. Off to the side over where we eventually found the hearth we put down a one meter by one meter test pit and recovered dozens of artifacts. That is when we knew this would be a good site."
The present dig site has only proven to be up to 1,200 years old, but there are things in the canyon that point to older habitation sites. Even the one the team is presently working on could have lower levels that are older.
"This sight overlaps a previous observation in Range Creek," said Barlow. "I have dated an early occupation (in the canyon) which starts by 400 a.d. and goes through at least the 800's and that one is a little bit different than the later occupation. The habitation was at some points. I have dozens and dozens of dates to that time period both on structures and graineries. All of the cliff graineries are (tied to) the date of the second floor. I am thinking that they didn't abandon it but it is an expansion (of the habitation)."
Barlow said in an earlier time period there are almost no sites up high in the cliffs. During the early dates in the canyon all the graineries little slab lines hidden way low, just above the flood plain and there's only a few cliff houses.
But from 930 to 1060 there seemed to be a huge expansion.
"There are sites all the way to the ridgetops (during that time period)," she explained. "I've recorded 5 sites up on the very ridgetops. About 90 percent of the dates are falling in that range and all the graineries are falling in that range too.
This sight (that is being excavated) has an earlier component.
These artifacts are associated with the main occupation of the canyon and that's when the later floor was formed."
The various structures throughout the canyon have astounded the experts, not only in there pristine condition, but also in their number.
Barlow has explored many, but says she has barely touched the surface even though she has spent many days repelling to sites that can be reached no other way.
While habitation sites near the canyon floor provide intimate clues about the people that lived in the canyon, those granaries, their history, construction and use are revealing in different ways.
It took some true technology to not only build those, but to fill them with foodstuffs.