Long-hidden treasure may unlock mysteries By Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News
The Fremont were the last Indian culture inhabiting the area, but had vanished by about A.D. 1250.
That’s about the same time the Anasazi left the Mesa Verde area. Although the two cultures lived in Utah and western Colorado at the same time, researchers haven’t found evidence of a close relationship, Jones said.
“There are a few blended sites with both types of artifacts, but whether they lived there at the same time, we don’t know,” said Jones. “They may or may not have spoken the same language. We just don’t know.”
Range Creek Canyon is definitely Fremont territory, he said, based on the abundant rock art, basketry and pottery that two years of surveys, mapping and site identification have found.
So far, no cliff dwellings like those at Mesa Verde or Anasazi relics have been found.
The Fremont made leather booties, similar to moccasins, while the Anasazi wore sandals woven from grasses and plants. Gray pottery and finely woven baskets also distinguish the Fremont, he said.
Range Creek, good for fishing, wading and watering both livestock and wildlife, nourished Fremont vegetable gardens of corn, squash, pumpkins and beans. Elsewhere in Utah, the Fremont built small dams and dug canals to water crops.
Researchers could find unmarred remains of irrigation systems in Range Creek, he said. Another project involves growing the distinctive “dented” corn seed found at the site and other Fremont settlements in Utah to find any genetic kinship.
All early cultures grew up around rivers – the Nile, the Ganges, the Amazon – and America’s first people likewise settled near water. With its high walls, water supply and wild game, Range Creek Canyon was a natural home to Indian ancestors.
In Range Creek, the Fremont lived in small clusters, possibly family-based, and in villages within visual range of one or two other settlements, said Jones. Deer, waterfowl, fish, small game and wild grain completed their diet, he said.
Circles of backpack-sized rocks mark the pit houses, where six to 30 Fremont lived. The living space was dug three or four feet into the ground and grasses were woven into tree limbs that formed roofs.
“Each of the pit houses was sealed when the roofs collapsed,” said Jerry Spangler, an archaeologist who has run the College of Eastern Utah’s field school at the site, sketching, measuring and mapping the surface.
“Under the ground is evidence of the daily life of the Fremont exactly as they left it,” said Spangler, whose crews have documented 225 sites. “It’s like a book waiting to be opened.”
Warm and dry in winter, the pit houses were a step above caves, said Spangler. In a survey of a single square mile, the graduate students who are the foot soldiers of archaeology have found six villages.
Scattered over the site are bright flags marking pottery pieces and rose, brown and white chips from arrow, spear and knife blades. Jones said the Fremont stone knappers fashioned points that could fly a fair distance and inflict a deadly wound.
At this site, archaeologists could find earlier arrowheads and projectile points that help advance knowledge of the development of hunting tools.
Scientists at other Fremont sites have found shell beads from the Pacific, copper beads from Mexico and obsidian from southern Idaho. Jones said Range Creek may hold clues to a major trade network that looters have stripped from other sites.
Jones is sure of one thing: The Fremont of Range Creek lived in fear. The evidence is in the inaccessible granaries high up on the sandstone canyon walls.
“People would not go to this kind of trouble to build granaries if they weren’t afraid,” he said. “They wouldn’t have lived somewhere this remote. We haven’t found cliff dwellings, but they could be up there farther than we’ve looked.”