Paleoindian to Late Prehistoric Eras

Overview of Northeastern Utah History Before European Arrival

Paleoindian era: ?-8500 Years Ago

Early Archaic pithouse excavated near Dutch John.The Paleoindian era was characterized by sweeping climatic changes and accompanying vast changes in floral and faunal ranges. Paleoindian peoples across North America are generally characterized as highly mobile, following and primarily subsisting on herds of now-extinct megafauna that were killed with spears, and later, with atlatl darts. Typical artifacts include lanceolate points, spurred end scrapers (early), other steeply angled scrapers, and gravers. Caves and rockshelters were utilized in the foothills and mountains of northwestern Colorado and southwestern Wyoming. Major Paleoindian era traditions include Clovis, Goshen, Folsom and Plano. The Plano tradition is subdivided into classic Plano on the Plains, and the Foothill-Mountain tradition (Frison 1992) in mountainous areas. There is no regional evidence for a proposed pre-Clovis presence. A reassessment occasioned by recent work (Dillehay 2000) now suggests that human occupation of the Americas began no later than 15,000 years ago. Some time between 8500-7500 years ago, the broad pattern of dependence on megafauna and modern large mammal hunting was replaced by more broad-based subsistence patterns.

This era is represented on the ANF by infrequent surface finds. Paleoindian point fragments have been reported at more than eight sites. The sites tend to be relatively close to the Green River. Site elevations range from 1850-2660 m (6070-8720 ft), but only two sites are above 1920 m (6300 ft). Point types include possible Folsom, Agate Basin, Midland, Medicine Lodge Creek, and untyped lanceolate and stemmed points. The points were surface finds, and in most cases the sites represent mixed occupations. At Dutch John a possible Medicine Lodge Creek point and a Midland point were recovered from the surface of two excavated Archaic era sites. The earliest dated components at 42Da599 and 42Da690, were Archaic occupations at 8000 years ago or shortly thereafter. Thus, the Paleoindian era on the ANF is presumed to end before 8000 years ago.

Archaic era: 8500-2000 Years Ago

Example of slab-lined basin Archaic Dutch OvenThe Archaic era was characterized by modern flora and fauna, a broad spectrum of which were utilized by foraging Archaic peoples. Climate was more stable than during the Paleoindian era. The Archaic era began with an extended time of arid, often warm conditions (the Altithermal) and ended with a much wetter Neoglacial episode. In comparison to the Paleoindian era, mobility during the Archaic era was somewhat reduced and areally constricted. Seasonal rounds were timed to exploit peaking plant and animal resources. In mountainous areas, peak availability of some resources varies with elevation; seasonal travel to various elevations could exploit this extended period of availability. Exploitation of various elevations also varied in response to climate change. At least some Archaic groups were seasonally (winter) sedentary in the lowlands. Typical artifacts or features include rock lined storage and thermal features (including slab-lined basins), basketry, nets, snares, groundstone, atlatls and darts, stemmed, corner-notch and side-notch projectile points, scrapers and occasional rock art. Caves and rockshelters were utilized, but ephemeral (brush structure) and more permanent (pithouse) habitations were also constructed.

There is a lack of consensus in northeastern Utah and surrounding areas regarding Archaic era endpoint dates and subdivisions within the Archaic era. (To learn more about the competing theories, check out the work of Jennings, Thompson and Pastor, Spangler, and Reed and Metcalf). On the ANF, we have divided the Archaic era into an Early and a Late subdivision.

The Dutch John evidence on ANF compared more favorably with the southwestern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado chronologies than with the Great Basin chronology. Early Archaic components at Dutch John were activity areas and relatively substantial brush structures with internal hearths and pits, groundstone and large side-notch points, bracketed by dates of 8005 and 6605 years ago. Late summer or fall season occupation appears to have focused on a combination of plant seeds and faunal (predominantly Artiodactyl – deer and mountain sheep) resources. These structures and activity areas may represent a strategy of central place foraging. Later Archaic era components bracketed by dates of 4610 and 3290 years ago at Dutch John were typically slab-lined basins in open situations, representing a highly mobile strategy focused on late winter or early spring season processing of roots, tubers, and possibly cactus pads. Elko series projectile points replaced large side-notch points during the Late Archaic period. At Dutch John, hearth and roasting pit components in two rockshelters were bracketed by dates of 2784-1880 years ago. This time span corresponds with the peak and subsequent decline of mid-Neoglacial cool-wet conditions (3000-2000 years ago). Dramatic changes in mobility and feature type documented at Dutch John supported subdivisions of the Archaic era into the Early Archaic period (8000-5000 years ago) and the Late Archaic period (5000-2000 years ago) in the eastern Uintas.

Late Prehistoric era: 2000-175 Years ago

Rockshelter occupied during Late Archaic periodThe ANF uses the term “Late Prehistoric era” for the 2000-175 years ago period, the time between Archaic and Historic eras.

The Late Prehistoric era is characterized by initially salubrious regional climates, which later declined with warming into periodic, then extended droughts, followed by onslaught of cold conditions at the beginning of the Little Ice Age. Formative cultures arose across (and beyond) the region. Sedentism and population density generally increased with adoption of a range of new technologies including the bow and arrow, plant cultigens, more elaborate manos and metates, ceramics, and elaborate rock art. Substantial architecture and storage facilities proliferated. Near the end of the Late Prehistoric era factors including climate change, environmental degradation and possibly the advent of new peoples resulted in major population displacements, increasing mobility and reduces use of cultigens.

See the Uinta Fremont section for more information on this important period.