It’s usually painful to dig up the past. But for some Brigham Young University students, unearthing the past has been downright thrilling.
Under the guidance of archeology professor Jim Allison, a group of students enrolled in BYU’s archeological field school discovered a rare find in a dig near Goshen, Utah, in June.
They stumbled on an 850-square-foot Indian village once inhabited by Fremont Indians, a hunter-gatherer tribe that lived throughout areas in Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Nevada from 700 to 1300 AD.
“Most Fremont houses are 160 to 180 square feet,” Allison explained the significance of the discovery. “Our structure is four times the size of a normal house, and larger than any other structure ever found at Fremont sites.”
At the dig site known as Wolf Village—named after the Wolf family that owns the property—Allison says his students have also found eight regular-sized Fremont homes called pit structures, which are semi-subterranean buildings. On top of these structures was an extra bonus for the budding archeologists: a layer of “prehistoric trash” that included arrowheads, broken pottery, corn cobs and animal bones.
So what does this rare excavation tell us about the Fremont Indians? It suggests that this tribe was very social. Allison says that constructing the large pit structures was extremely labor-intensive, so it would have required the help of the entire community. Also, it appears as if the structure was used for communal activities—most likely community-wide feasting.
“The artifacts we found include pottery from southwestern Utah and northern Arizona, and shell beads from the Pacific coast… demonstrating far-flung trade networks,” says the professor.
Radiocarbon dates suggest the site was probably occupied between 1025 AD and 1100 AD. “We’ve also found abundant remains of maize and beans, demonstrating a strong commitment to farming; and animal bone, suggesting the Fremont Indians fished in Utah Lake… and hunted deer, mountain sheep, antelope, rabbits and waterfowl.”
Allison’s dig team will begin analysis on the artifacts in the fall, as they try to piece together a more defined story of the Fremont Indians. As one student said, “We get to come up with answers and figure out what happened to these people. It’s a thrilling chase.”