Site Update: Final Thoughts
by Eric Deetz
We were all excited about going to Range Creek even though it was the most challenging of our five digs. The site was so remote and inaccessible, the whole crew had to camp at the head of the canyon and drive in each day to get to the Big Village. The same remoteness that made it a challenge for us helped preserve the archaeological record to a startling degree. Truly undisturbed archaeological sites are a rare commodity. Many sites are left undisturbed because they are well buried by time or human activity and not visible. In most buried sites there is enough moisture in the soil so that organic material will rot over time. In the dry climate of East-Central Utah, nothing decomposes on the surface or in the soil. This accounts for the incredible preservation on the sites at Range Creek. In some cases, items like arrows and sandals have been found in niches in the cliffs.
Dr. Duncan Metcalfe and his team are currently conducting a systematic survey of the entire canyon and surrounding ridges. Given the terrain and the size of the canyon, this is an ongoing project. To date they have identified hundreds of new sites in locations both expected and unexpected. Unlike other areas in the Southwest, these sites are for the untrained eye to see. On the 30-minute drive down the canyon to the site each morning, we passed dozens if not hundreds of important archaeological sites. Even to our trained eyes, some of us had trouble spotting them at first. Once we learned what to look for, we could see evidence of the Fremont people all over the place.
Could the sites in Range Creek live up to our expectations? Absolutely! In the three days we spent in Range Creek we excavated on a complex of pit houses. The work focused on a structure in the center of the complex. The finds were to be expected — shards of pottery, stone projectile points and charred organic material. The building we helped work on was unexpected. The results of the excavation along with the geophysics has caused the archaeologists to rethink some of the ideas they have about how this particular site fits in with the rest of the evidence in Range Creek.