CEU Prehistoric Museum archaelogical curator Renee Barlow examines a pot removed from the a Manti La Sal National Forest site on Friday afternoon right after it was unpacked in the museums collections room.
The pot as it looked just before it was extracted from its near thousand year resting place.
While many area residents know about the remains of ancient peoples in Range Creek, rock art in Nine Mile Canyon and the San Rafael Swell, few consider the fact that some of these same people populated the Wasatch Plateau and some of its canyons during the same times as they were living in the desert. That fact came under more illumination when on Friday a pot discovered under a rock overhang in the Manti-LaSal National Forest in early December that may be between 800-1000 years old was removed from its long time resting spot by archaeologists.
"We will be doing a lot of study on this, but it appears to be Anasazi or Fremont in origin," said Charmaine Thompson, the archaeologist for the Manti-La Sal National Forest.
It was found in early December when Casey Mickelsen, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officer, was patrolling the area looking for illegal animal traps and saw it sitting under an outcropping.
"I was looking thorough my binoculars and saw it under an outcropping," Mickelsen said on Monday morning. "It was quite a distance and I wasn't sure what it was."
Mickelsen hiked up to the spot and found the artifact tipped on its side under the rock. He then decided he should obscure it from view and contact someone about what he had found. He called Mark Connelly a retired DWR officer who has been involved for some time in discoveries at Range Creek, and Connelly told him he would get in touch with the proper people. That was the National Forest Service.
"Someone did us quite a favor a long time ago," said Renee Barlow, the archaeologist for the College of Eastern Utah Museum, which collaborated with the National Forest Service on collecting the artifact. "They sat it under the rock resting gently on this bed of juniper bark. It is in fantastic shape."
A team of Forest Service personnel, CEU officials, volunteers from the Castle Valley Archaelogical Society and Mickelsen traveled to the site on Friday. Mickelsen pointed the way and the team removed it from its near-millenia resting place early that afternoon.
"One of the best things that could happen was that Casey found it and did all the right things to take care of it," said Thompson. "He realized its importance, put rocks around the opening to conceal it and contacted us immediately. We then contacted the CEU Museum to help us remove it because they have the expertise to handle and work with delicate artifacts like this."
Thompson said she also contacted artifact officials from two different Native American tribes who agreed with her that the pot needed to be removed as soon as possible.
"When we saw its precarious position under the rocks we knew we needed to remove it," said Barlow on Monday. "It is a minor miracle it was still there and in once piece. We think with the way the water had been washing through that area that there is a good chance it wouldn't have lasted through this spring."
The Fremont and Anasazi often traded items and there is speculation that it could be from either group and may have originated as far away as northern Arizona. But both archaeologists agreed on Friday that the Fremonts also often copied Anasazi pottery and it could be one of those copies as well. But after some examination over the weekend and conferring with some pottery experts, it appears officials are leaning toward the fact that the pot is more likely Anasazi.
"It would be wonderful if it was locally made," stated Barlow. "But either way is exciting. It's a win-win for everyone; for the museum, for the forest service and for the public."
Barlow said the pot could have come to Castle Country from Arizona in a couple of different ways. One, it might have been carried to the area by a trader or in one trip by someone coming from northern Arizona. Another way it could have arrived on the Wasatch Plateau is to have been traded time and time again from village to village. None the less the archaeologists say the pot is not only valuable to modern science, but must have been valuable to those that put it under the overhang, because they took such care to cushion its round bottom in soft materials.
"We as archaeologists work in the world of heartbreak in many ways," said Thompson. "Someone obviously wanted to protect this pot and come back and get it, but never did."
The pot and accompanying base material will be under study for some time, but both agencies are determined to put it on display for the public as soon as possible.
"We like to keep artifacts in official repositories as close to the sources where they were found as possible," said Thompson. "It will be displayed here at the CEU museum and we will also be hoping to display it at the Museum of the San Rafael in Emery County as well, so people there can see it as well."
The pot may be on public display at the CEU Prehistoric Museum as early as the middle of January.
"We already have picked out a case and a place to display it," stated Barlow. "It's just a matter of getting it ready and doing what we have to do."
The pot has art on it although at this point some of that is covered by residue of various kinds and in other places it has deteriorated. It is also full of sediment. At first the archaeologists thought that it may have been sitting there and was buried, but Monday they said they think it may have been buried on purpose. In any case there could be food particles in the bottom. The pot could contain pollen and other things such as burnt macro fossils that could determine age as well as the diet of the people who used the vessel.
Work will begin right away with specialists coming into the museum to study the pot. In addition some chemical analysis will be done either at the museum or at a research facility that specializes in this kind of artifact.
"It's a thrill for the CEU museum to be involved in a project like this," said Barlow. "Its the best of both worlds; not only will we be able to use all the information with it and around it, but it was found in situ. It is where the ancients left it 800 or 900 years ago."