Prehistory

People

Circa 15,000 — 8,500 years ago

Paleoindian / Paleoamerican / Paleoarchaic

The first Americans migrated to North America from Northeast Asia sometime after the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 18,000 years ago. The precise route(s) of this initial migration is still debated by archaeologists. Through the use of calibrated radiocarbon dates obtained from prehistoric sites, archaeologists have determined that by 14,000 years ago, people were living in what is now considered the Continental United States. This archaeological time frame is referred to as the Paleoindian period ('Paleo' meaning 'old'). Some archaeologists prefer the term Paleoamerican, and within the Great Basin, this timeframe is often referred to as the Paleoarchaic.

This time period is best known as the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age. Paleoamericans arrived here on the cusp of a drastic climate change. These initial colonists hunted Mammoth and other Pleistocene mammals that are now extinct. The Great Basin was full of shallow lakes, the largest of which was Lake Bonneville. Paleoamericans hunted animals and gathered plant resources along the shores of these now extinct freshwater lakes. The alkaline basins that are characteristic of the area today, are actually the fossil lake beds, known as playas.

By the end of the Paleoamerican period, the climate was more similar to today's, and people began to adapt to more localized environments. The long term result of this local adaptation helped to shape the many unique cultures of the historic Native American tribes.

Artist's rendering of Paleoindians hunting an American Camel in the Great Basin.

View of the Skull Valley Playa from the Stansbury Range.

Circa 8,500 — 2000 years age

The Archaic Period
(By Dr. Byron Loosle ANF)

The 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 locally 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 include 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).

Circa 2000 — 175 years ago

The Late Prehistoric Period
(By Dr. Byron Loosle ANF)

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.

Circa 1600-700 years ago

Fremont

The Fremont culture, named after an American explorer, is well known in Utah. Many people are familiar with some of the material culture of the Fremont, such as villages, distinctive rock art, granaries, and maize horticulture. Archaeologists, however, are still engaged in a number of debates about the Fremont, relating to possible subdivisions and variants within the Fremont archaeological culture, as well as disagreements about when the Fremont appeared and disappeared. Some archaeologists have yet to agree about what attributes an archaeological site must have to even be considered a Fremont occupation. The following discussion is a very general treatment of the Fremont culture. For a detailed description of the Uinta Fremont variant, see Dr. Bryon Loosle's  discussion located on the Ashley National Forest web site.

A general consensus among archaeologists is that the Fremont archaeological culture had its heyday between approximately 400 A.D. and 1300 A.D. The Fremont differ from their predecessors in that they began to live in semi-sedentary villages and cultivate maize, which was made possible due to an increase in moisture during this period. Although the extent that different Fremont groups relied on horticulture/farming varied, maize horticulture is a hallmark of Fremont sites and has often been cited as the key feature that associates them with southwestern cultures such as the Anasazi. A shift to a dryer climate, and the possible influx of new groups from the west and southwest is often cited as the cause of the Fremont's disappearance.