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Front Page » July 13, 2004 » Local News » Unveiling the Secret
Published 4,607 days ago

Unveiling the Secret

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Part II of a Series on the Wilcox Acquisition in Range Creek

Kevin Jones, Utah State archaeologist describes the life of the Fremont to reporters.

The archaeological finds at the Range Creek Wilcox Acquisition are in remarkably good condition for being thousands of years old. The Wilcox family who kept the archaeological treasures protected for more than 50 years did an outstanding job maintaining everything as it was found. As Waldo Wilcox pointed out he was always busy with the cattle and didn't have time to be concerned with the remnants left behind by an ancient Indian culture. However, since the property is now in the care of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources research and documentation is now taking place on the property.

The University of Utah is now in their third summer at the property. They have spent time documenting and mapping the areas where items have been found. There hasn't been a lot of removal of the articles and most are left where found, unless they need to be moved to protect them from damage.

During the recent media trip to the property much discussion was held on the ancient inhabitants and their lifestyles and habits. In comparison with the famous Nine Mile Canyon in Carbon County, it is believed that Range Creek in Emery County was a year round habitation. In Nine Mile indications are that it was just used as a summer residence. Some indications point to a movement of the people between Nine Mile and Range Creek.

Pot shards at the Range Creek site indicate some interaction with the Anasazi nation. Trash pits in Range Creek although not large do indicate year round residence. The north-south location of the canyon was excellent for sunshine. Water, available timber and natural berry producing vegetation made Range Creek an ideal location. The Indians also raised corn, beans and squash on the fertile bottom lands of the canyon. The Anasazi migrated to the South and became the cliff dwellers of the southern United States. It is not known for certain what became of the Fremont culture, but many modern Indian tribes claim a link to them.

Jerry Spangler, teacher at the College of Eastern Utah remarked that every artifact found is interesting. An arrowhead can be tested and the animal that the arrowhead killed can be determined. Baskets have been found in Range Creek and black on white pottery. Many artifacts are still intact. A recent find of a cache of arrows, some with the arrowheads still attached, has been taken to the laboratory of the CEU Museum for preservation.

Small pottery shards are valuable for testing to establish dates and timelines. Duncan Metcalfe from the University of Utah and the Museum of Natural History has spent three summers at Range Creek. Metcalfe views the canyon as a huge field school where much education can take place. They are in the process of surveying and assessing artifacts without an emphasis on gathering.

Spangler said they sent University of Utah students to climb up the Arch and a small village was found there on top of the canyon. Several granaries, prolific rock art and three pit houses are located 1,000 feet above the canyon floor. Spangler said, "It is a deluxe apartment in the sky."

"There are pit houses everywhere we look," said Spangler. "This canyon probably supported between 250-500 people, we don't know for sure because they had a habit of picking up and relocating to a new area. These people were really efficient. They were the first true water conservationists and they supported a large group of people with a small stream of water. They were very efficient."

At the current time, no excavations have taken place in Range Creek. The pit houses are found as they were left. Large boulders which made up the walls still form a ring. The inhabitants dug down three-four feet and cedar timbers and bark were also used in the construction. A ladder was used to gain entry into the house from a side entrance. These houses were very warm, snug and energy efficient. A smoke hole was always included and the floors were of clay. Five villages have been found in one square mile at Range Creek. The size of the pit houses vary and some may have been used for communal events. Some of the pit houses would have included a ledge around the perimeter to be used for sleeping. A replica of a pit house is on display at the CEU museum.

Kevin Jones said the Indians used hoe type, shovel instruments to scoop out the dirt when constructing a pit house. The Fremonts were avid hunters as well as farmers. They went on at least one big hunting trip each year. Testing of bones can also indicate what they were consuming. In the Sevier Valley, testing has determined that 80 percent of their diet came from corn. Those Fremonts from Range Creek had more variety in their diet and did not rely as heavily on corn. They also used birds and rabbits in their diets and used the rabbit skins for clothing and blankets. They also weaved rabbit strips into footwear. They used juniper bark for shirts and to weave into mats for sleeping and placing food on.

Jones said they also had established networks of trading. Jones said the life of the Fremont was a struggle and it varied from year to year depending on weather conditions and how well their crops grew. The men are estimated to be approximately 5'8' tall and the females were around 5'2". Jones said in a lot of the human remains there are traumatic injuries which were sustained at some point in their lives, a lot of broken limbs and that type of thing. He said they lived a very dangerous existence, climbing cliffs and hunting activities all made them susceptible to these types of injuries.

Joel Boomgarden, teaching assistant for the University of Utah, said that students are flagging the area where items are found. He has noticed an increase in foot traffic into the area since news of the area came out. He said last summer while working at the site he didn't see any hikers and this year, people have been walking in and artifacts have begun to disappear. Boomgarden showed reporters what he referred to as a looters pile which contained small shards placed on a rock. He said two projectile points, knife blades, have already disappeared. They were located by students and placed on a rock and later when they returned they were gone. As the wonders of the canyon become known the question of the management of the site becomes foremost in importance. This issue will be looked at in part three of the series on Range Creek.

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