Artifacts found at the Provo archaeological site bear witness to the 1,000-year-old village of Fremont

Artifacts include bison bones, arrowheads, pottery and evidence of corn farming.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Faculty and students at BYU’s Archaeological Field School 2023 explore the remains of a 1,000-year-old Fremont village in the Hinckley Mounds of west Provo on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Nearly 1,000 years ago, a thriving Native American village whose residents archaeologists call “Fremont” streched the area that is now west of Provo.

“Before the pioneers and even before the Ute, large populations lived in these valleys,” said Dr. Michael Searcy, an anthropology professor at Brigham Young University and co-director of the current dig at a dig site called Hinckley Mounds.

It is estimated that the Fremont lived in the area from around AD 700 to AD 1300, where there is evidence that they grew corn and hunted and gathered for other foods.

The current dig is part of BYU’s Archeology Field School May 1-June 23, where graduate and undergraduate students can get hands-on experience with archeology, which Searcy says is “amazing” in the west Provo area.

The region has been excavated by both professional and part-time archaeologists for more than a century. During the ongoing excavation, Searcy said some of the team’s biggest finds included animal remains, such as bison bones, as well as arrowheads and pottery.

He noted that the area is relatively difficult to excavate because students sometimes rely only on subtle soil composition and color changes to date artifacts, rather than more accurate dating methods like radiocarbon dating.

“So I tell them, ‘If you’re interested in Fremont archeology, you can achieve anything.’ Roman aqueduct? “Easy,” he said. “‘Maya Temple? So easy.”

The urban sprawl likely buries similar artifacts

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Faculty and students at BYU’s Archaeological Field School 2023 explore the remains of a 1,000-year-old Fremont village in the Hinckley Mounds of west Provo on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

The current dig has no indigenous involvement, Searcy said, noting that many tribes in Utah are not connected to the Fremont people, although he said, “There are likely clear connections between the Fremont and the Ute, Shoshone, Paiute and others.” who moved.” We assume that we entered this area sometime in the 14th century.”

He added that when archaeologists find human remains, they are required to contact the state’s physical anthropologist. None were found in the current excavation, but remains were already found in the area in 2015.

BYU student Mason Lee spends more than 40 hours a week helping with the excavation. He is one of 21 BYU students involved in the dig, along with six students from Weber State University.

Lee recalled recently finding a pottery and washing it off – revealing a clear fingerprint with ridges.

“It was right at that moment that I stuck my thumb in and it fit like Cinderella’s shoe,” Lee said. “It was this connection between me and this person who has been dead for 1,000 years and lived and died in this area.”

The ongoing excavation, as well as an earlier excavation in 2015, are considered a “rescue project,” Searcy said. That’s because recent urban sprawl has engulfed areas believed to contain artifacts like the ones his team is currently finding.

“We really try to preserve as much as we can so it doesn’t get lost,” Searcy said.

Specifically, the Hinckley Mounds location is owned by Provo resident John Hinckley, who grants the team access to it. Before him, the land belonged to his father, G. Marion Hinckley, who gave access to it to BYU archeology professors and students beginning in the 1940s.

Searcy added that there are likely similar sites under newly constructed homes nearby, as well as under the runways at the nearby airport.

“But this is one of the last places where it’s not either inaccessible, damaged or completely destroyed,” he said.

Connect with people like us

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Scott Ure and Jacob Robinson examine cremated bone fragments as BYU’s Archaeological Field School 2023 explores the remains of a 1,000-year-old Fremont village in western Provo on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

There is evidence that the Fremont also lived in central Utah, the eastern fringes of Nevada, and western Colorado. But in northern Utah, those who lived near what is now west Provo would have had access to many locust and green resources, and it appears they fished frequently, Searcy said.

“Most of the bones we find here are fish bones,” Searcy said. “…We also found bone harpoons used to spear fish.”

The team also found conch shell deposits, Searcy said. The clam is native to Utah Lake but only forms in stagnant water, which he says could be evidence Fremont, too, has been struggling with flooding — like Utah this year.

Lee said that through this dig, connecting with the people of Fremont had a great impact.

“They took care of the things we cared about,” he said. “They were people like us, with problems, aspirations and dreams, and being able to connect with them in a meaningful way is both personally fulfilling and meaningful for science.”

Justin Scaccy

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