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Front Page » December 19, 2006 » Local News » DWR Officer Discovers Ancient Relic in Range Creek
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DWR Officer Discovers Ancient Relic in Range Creek

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Clifford Duncan and Kathy Green examine a flute after the ancient artifact was removed from its resting place high in the cliffs above Range Creek. The flute will eventually be displayed at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in downtown Price.

A chance discovery by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officer has led to a relic of the past in Range Creek.

The artifact will be displayed near the famous Pilling Figurines at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in Price.

"I saw there was a granary or habitation site on a cliff so I hiked up to it and was trying to get around on a small ledge that led to it," explained Alan Green on Dec. 16.

Green, other DWR personnel, archaeologists, museum representatives and a Ute Indian tribal councilman drove to the site of the discovery on Saturday.

"I crawled around one narrow outcropping and looked at the ledge and decided to turn back. As I turned around, there it was, lodged in a crack in the rock right in front of me. I had passed it and hadn't seen it, but it sure was obvious as I turned to go back," continued Green.

The object the DWR officer had spotted was an ancient 27-inch long flute. When Green reported the discovery to his superiors and fellow officers, a group of DWR personnel went to the site to decide what to do about the flute.

The initial discovery took place in late fall. While the flute may have been lodged in the rocks for up to a thousand years, officials were concerned about what could happen to the relic during the winter or in the next couple of months until seasonal snows closed the canyon.

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

Lodged in a crevice, an ancient flute avoided discovery until fall 2006, when a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officer stumbled upon the artifact. On the morning of Dec. 16, the early American Indian relic was removed from the site where it had resided for hundreds of years.

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 had purchased the land.

But as state officials started to survey the property, they found a rich cultural heritage area filled with 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 culture habitation sites.

"We had to decide what to do and how to handle this very unique find," pointed out DWR's Mark Connolly, who was present at the site on Saturday. "What would happen to the flute was a concern, but so was how it was to be removed. We wanted to do it the right way."

Officials were concerned about removing the flute properly, placing the relic in the right location to be viewed by the public and considering the spiritual value the artifact would have to the American Indian culture.

Officials consulted with political and educational parties about the project. Duncan Metcalf, the lead archaeologist for the University of Utah, was invited to the removal of the flute.

To address the spiritual aspect of the find, Connelly contacted Forrest Kuch, who had been interviewed during the making of Lost Canyon, a documentary produced about the area by the U of U's KUED not long after it was discovered what a treasure trove Range Creek was.

Connolly contacted the Hopi Nation about the situation to see if the tribal leaders wanted to send a representative to Range Creek when the flute was extracted. However, that didn't work out and Kuch suggested that Connolly contact Clifford Duncan, a Ute Indian tribal elder to preside over the removal.

To remove the flute from its location, the DWR contacted Montgomery Archaeological Consulting, a firm under contract with the state agency.

The company sent Jody Patterson, a specialist in removing and preserving organic materials, and Patricia Stavish to work on the project. The DWR also had agency archaeologist Kathy Davies on site.

Clifford Duncan stands with his pipe that was part of the memorial ceremony that he did in connection with the removal of the flute from its location in the cliffs of Range Creek. He also did a short ceremony just before it was removed at the actual site of the artifact. Archaeologist Jody Patterson is in the background.

On Saturday morning, the group gathered at the old Horse Canyon Mine and drove through a few inches of snow across the top of the canyon and into Range Creek. Once the site was reached, the group viewed the location from the canyon floor and Duncan conducted a memorial ritual connected to the flute and the individual who had placed the artifact in Range Creek.

"This ritual isn't about me nor is it just about Native Americans, but for all of us that are here today, and for the community as a whole," noted Duncan before he started the ritual. "We are all connected to this - we are all part of it. This will keep it sacred. Whenever we see it,we will know where it came from."

After the ceremony, which included the presentation of a pipe and singing, the archaeologists ascended the mountainside with various DWR personnel and began the work of removing the flute.

The effort took about three hours to complete, with the archaeologists mapping the area using GPS technology, taking notes about the flute and the condition it was in as well as making diagrams about how the artifact sat in place at the site.

Duncan was a brought up the hill to see the flute in situ before the artifact was removed. A ceremony was performed with corn meal before the extraction process began. The corn meal represents something that the individuals removing an object are giving back for taking the item from its resting place.

Once removed, the flute was placed in non-acid packing material and a special box which was brought down from the cliff by Green. The box was placed in the hands of Duncan, who held it for a moment before the artifact was taken to the CEU vehicle. At the vehicle, the box was opened so members of the expedition could see the flute.

Alan Green brings down the flute from the cliffs above in an acid free box. The packing inside was of a special type too.

"We are very glad to have this for our museum," said Reese Barrick, the CEU facility's director who had accompanied the archaeologists to the site. "We will do some preservation work on it and then will start to display it along side the Pilling Figurines. Eventually, we will build a display for the flute itself."

When the rock was removed from the flute, Patterson said it became apparent to people working on the project that the pressure had bent the artifact in the middle.

"I could see a longitudinal split down the middle of it, but I thought it would stay intact when we removed it," pointed out Patterson. "Unfortunately, when we pulled it out, it separated at the point where it was full of sediment. Otherwise, it is in very good shape. It's not everyday you get to do something like that or even see it. It was definitely a great opportunity and an honor to participate in this."

Barrick indicated that he believed the flute could be reattached for display at the museum.

"I do this kind of thing periodically," explained Duncan. "When I return, I will express myself to the group I belong to and will tell them what I think about it. I was happy to be here. This is really an outstanding site. This was an event that I won't forget overnight. We do not claim this instrument to be of our tribe, but we are here simply for the spiritual aspect of that instrument. The people who lived here hundreds of years ago - that instrument is theirs. So we are merely taking care of it for them."

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