Throughout central Utah, and into very eastern Nevada and western Colorado, archaeologists have uncovered the remnants of an archeological culture they call the Fremont, named for the Fremont River in Utah.
The Fremont differed in several ways from their more famous contemporaries in the 11th to 14th centuries, the Ancestral Puebloan peoples who built Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. Four distinct artifacts set them apart: very unique "one rod and bundle" basketry construction, mocassins constructed from the hock of a deer or sheep leg, trapezoidal shaped figures found as clay figurines and in rock art, and the unique materials used to make their gray, coiled pottery.
Unlike native tribes before and after them, the Fremont were primarily sedentary. They built villages of pit houses with adobe structures to store food. They collected wild foods and hunted game, but also cultivated corn, beans, and squash using irrigation techniques. The presence of obsidian, turquoise, and shells show that the Fremont traded with distant villages.
The westernmost known Fremont site, Baker Village, is located only a few miles from Great Basin National Park. Believed to be occupied from 1220 to 1295 C.E., the site had been known to archeologists for many years because of a visible raised mound covered with a scattering of potsherds and chipped stone. From 1991 to 1994 the Brigham Young University, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management who owns the site, conducted summer excavations at the Baker Archaeological Site.
The excavations revealed a settlement of surprising complexity. Instead of a scatter of pit homes and mud-walled food storage structures, Baker Village consists of an organized cluster of over 15 buildings built according to a specific plan and aligned to a single compass direction. In the center, a larger mud-walled structure shows intriguing alignments with sunrise on the winter and summer solstices.
Evidence of the Fremont can also be found in local rock art. Upper Pictograph Cave, in Great Basin National Park, contains pictographs believed to be painted by the Fremont. The figures painted onto the rock surface with an organic pigmented mixture resemble both animal and human forms, and contain the classic Fremont style trapezoidal shapes. Other creations are more abstract, consisting of lines or dots.
All traces of Fremont culture disappear from the archeological record between 1300 and 1500 C.E. Archeologists can't quite agree on what happened, but several changes are generally blamed.
First, climatic conditions favorable for farming seem to have changed during this period, forcing local groups to rely more and more on wild food resources and to adopt the increased mobility necessitated in collecting wild food.
At the same time, new groups of hunter-gatherers appear to have migrated into the Fremont area from the southwestern Great Basin sometime after about 1,000 years ago. These full-time hunter-gatherers were apparently the ancestors of the Numic-speaking Ute, Paiute, and Shoshoni peoples who inhabited the region at historic contact, and perhaps they displaced, replaced, or assimilated the part-time Fremont hunter-gatherers.
You can visit other Fremont Indian sites in Utah at Fremont Indian State Park, Zion National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and in Colorado at Dinosaur National Monument.
Last updated: April 22, 2021