Anthro Mountain Excavation
Ashley National Forest, Utah, 2002
by Lynn Lary and Janet Fratella, PIT Volunteers
"In late 2001, a survey crew found an unusual cluster of high-elevation structures, which appear to be prehistoric. PIT volunteers and archaeologists will test excavate the site to determine how old the structures are, how long the site might have been inhabited, and what activities the site occupants might have been engaged in. Could the group be related to the Fremont people who created the mysterious rock art in world-famous Nine Mile Canyon? Located at an elevation of close to 9,000 feet, this site is very unusual. This PIT project provides a remarkable opportunity for all of us to participate in the discovery of little-known prehistoric societies." From the Passport in Time Traveler, Spring 2002
In June 2002, a team of U.S. Forest Service archaeologists, student interns, and volunteers worked to excavate the site.
Forest Service Archaeologist Byron Loosle headed the project and was assisted by Forest Service archeologist Clay Johnson and archaeological technician Derek Stertz. The team was divided into five crews. Each crew was led by a Forest Service archeologist or student intern. Student interns included Michelle, who is an archaeology graduate student at BYU; Jay, Jennifer, and Mark are undergraduate students at Kansas State University studying either anthropology or archaeology; and Tiffany, a student at BYU Idaho.
- Don and Craig from the Salt Lake Area
- Robin and Don from New Jersey
- Sandra and Vivienne from Southern Idaho
- Penny, Terry and Sandy from Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Grant from Seattle, Washington
- Barbara from Grand Junction, Colorado
- Janet and Lynn from Marcola, Oregon
- Val from the Salt Lake Area
- Carla from Dillon, Colorado
- Eric from Vermont
The site was located on Anthro Mountain approximately 25 miles south of Duchesne, Utah. This high desert area contains sagebrush and aspen groves and is at an elevation of approximately 9,000 feet.
Each day, the crews headed to the site to excavate. Although the excavation started with shovels, we used trowels and paint brushes as the work became finer.
One meter squares were excavated vertically 10 cm at a time. This technique was used so that the location of any uncovered artifacts could be easily documented.
Screening the excavated materials allowed us to find not only arrowheads, but debitage (flakes of rock created when someone was crafting an arrowhead or spearpoint), bone, charcoal, and other small items.
Each collected item was catalogued and placed inside of a plastic bag for future evaluation and study. Each bag was then labeled to identify the type of item found (i.e. debitage, bone) and the date, location, and depth at which the item was found.
PIT volunteers sketched and photographed the sites so that the archaeologists also will have a visual representation of the sites excavated at Anthro Mountain. The cists found at Michelle's site and the pit found at Byron's site were two findings that volunteers sketched for future reference.
According to archaeologist Byron Loosle, "high elevation is often thought of as the place where people went to go hunting. We did find some projectile points and Michelle's crew did find some bone. However, the hunting really seems to be incidental to why people were at the site. Given all the groundstone we found and the storage pits, it really seems like the focus of activity at the site was gathering and processing plants. At this elevation there would be different plants available or plants would be ready to harvest at different times than plants at lower elevations. We suspect people from the Uinta Basin were visiting the site -- Uinta gray pottery and the Uinta quartzite mano we found on the surface suggest this as they are both Fremont material.
Byron was very enthusiastic about what PIT volunteers uncovered during the week. Although the crews excavated a number of artifacts, much of the work will be conducted in research labs over the course of the next several months. PIT volunteers have helped Byron and his crew of archaeologists uncover new information about the previously unknown inhabitants of this 9,000' elevation mountain.
Pollen analysis: Info to come.
Soil analysis: Info to come.
Byron's Crew: Don, Craig, Byron, Don, Robin
Byron's crew excavated an area that likely housed a small activity center, such as a brush structure. After studying the site, Byron concluded that there were likely two distinct occupations at this particular site. Of particular significance was the identification of a pit located in the northwest area. A distinct gray layer, which was visible throughout the walls of the site, further identified one occupation as using the site for an activity area or structure. The structure could have been as large as 8' x 7'.
The crew found relatively few artifacts at all levels at this site, except in the gray level. This level exposed flakes, charcoal, small pieces of bone, and perhaps some fossilized bone. Byron suspects that the gray lense is a result of a small brush structure, like a wickiup, burning. Unfortunately rodents had badly damaged this cultural layer so lab results may not be very helpful.
According to Byron, the small number of identified artifacts at this site can indicate that the occupants kept the area clean, with the exception of the pit area, which is where most of the artifacts were located. Finally, rocks found at two corners of the site indicate that they may have served as supporters for the shelter's posts.
Clay's Crew: Sandra, Terry, Clay, Grant
After surveying and test excavating several sites for the first several days of the PIT project, Clay's crew moved to Michelle's site because Byron felt that her site offered the most potential for understanding who lived on Anthro Mountain and how they may have survived.
When Clay's crew moved to Michelle's site it was already clear to PIT leaders that the excavated bedrock already uncovered at the site continued west through the site. Clay's crew found that against the west wall were slabs that were inclined into the feature, possibly indicating the existence of a wall of some sort. The crew also found some fragments of a thin sandstone metate, a beautiful local chert biface about 8-10 cm long, and an elko Corner-notch projectile point that had been reworked into an awl (An awl is used like a needle or punch to pierce hides or other material so they could be sewn together.) These artifacts may possibly confirm that the site was one used by the Fremont people, although there is some disagreement between Byron and Clay about this issue because the Elko points were used during Late Archaic and Fremont occupations--Clay thinks the Anthro site is Late Archaic and Byron thinks it's Fremont.
Michelle's Crew: Penny, Michelle, Barbara, Lynn, Mark
Michelle's site offered one of the most intriguing opportunities for PIT volunteers. Michelle's crew found a series of flat bedrock slabs at the north end of their pit which turned into upright slabs at the western end of the trench. As the group moved further west, they found that the bedrock slabs ended abruptly, which may indicate the existence of some type of structure at the site. What puzzled Michelle was that the feature was elongated rather than round, which is a different shape than a traditional pit house.
At the south end of the trench, the crew found a deep cist, which may have been used for storage. If there was indeed a structure at this site, Michelle believed it would have been placed just outside of this area. Because of this possibility, the crew continued to look for a floor in the site--going inside the rock alignment. Cultural debris, such as debitage and bone, were located throughout the site.
Tiffany's Crew: Val, Tiffany, Jay, Janet, Carla
Tiffany's crew headed north in Michelle's site to learn if the excavated bedrock formed an edge that would indicate the edge of a pit house. They hit bedrock on the east wall and also found a cist at the north end of the site similar to the one found at the south end by Michelle's crew.
The crew also found a mano in the same square as the cist but probably three or four levels above it. The mano would have been used to grind seeds or some other material on a metate. The crew also found a number of large debitage flakes and a phalanges (these are bones that are found in an elk's foot).
Michelle and Tiffany's crew had found small pieces of yellow-colored material near the pit. Tiffany's crew found almost a whole square of this yellow-colored floor. It looks like the material, possibly a clay, was brought in from somewhere else and laid down to create a floor. When people use an area they tend to pack down the surface -- what archaeologists call a use surface or activity area. Given the amount of work, Byron suspects that it must have been inside of a structure. However, they didn't find any evidence of a roof or walls.
Derek's Crew: Jennifer, Vivienne, Sandy, Eric
Derek and his crew first began excavating their site believing that it might yield a teepee ring. An arc of stones and visible debitage on the surface were what originally led PIT leaders to excavate this particular site. The crew followed a large rock ridge, which Derek surmised might have been placed there on purpose, but he was still uncertain about its placement at the end of the project. The crew found few artifacts as they moved through the site.
The crew did find a large piece of sandstone in level 1. It had dimpling and some wear, but Derek did not believe it to be a metate. It was found in an isolated location and looked as if the rock was placed there on purpose.