Goslin Mountain 2003 - Passport in Time

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Goslin Mountain Survey

Ashley National Forest, Utah, 2003
by Clay Johnson and Grant C. Sulham, PIT Volunteers
The Goslin Mountain survey was conducted in July 2003. It is somewhat unique in PIT projects as it surveyed an area that burned the year previously in the Mustang fire.

The fire burned 20,038 acres and cost 3 million to suppress. It was reportedly man made. However, we have not been able to obtain the findings of the investigation. There is a lurid newspaper story but we’re unable to determine its validity. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/974299/Order-may-have-aided-Utah-fire.html

Our archeologist mentioned we were seeing the effect of a century of wild fire suppression. The fuel load that had built up was such that the heat of the fire caused great spalls of bedrock to break off in the pinon-juniper areas. It was referred to as a “1,000 year fire.”

Goslin Mountain is right on the Utah- Wyoming border. The closest town is Dutch John next to the Flaming Gorge reservoir. Driving north you enter Wyoming through a gap in a curtain wall. Then the route becomes dirt roads, steep uphill grades, and finally deeply rutted trails climbing the mountain. The site surveyed was on an extensive, grassy benchland or plateau along the south face of the mountain. It is several hundred feet above the Green River which lies to the south. The slopes above and below and occasional locations on the bench, had been covered in pinyon-juniper trees before the fire. The nights were chilly and the days hot. For the team to report in by radio, the directions were “Drive to the top of the mountain, then walk along the fence line to the second or third post to get reception.”

The campsite had no water and one porta-potty. Once during the week the porta-potty became an accidental target for atlatls. No hits were made. The winds were such that at least one dome tent blew away and started rolling. This was followed by the owner chasing it.

My expectation was that the fire would have cleared the ground making artifacts and features easily visible. That wasn’t the case. Without the vegetation the rains after the fire caused a great amount of erosion. Tall grass that grew after the fire made it difficult to see artifacts. You’d repeatedly find fresh sentiment deposits and nothing on the surface. The survey crews found a number of artifacts and features showing the effects of the fire itself, and of post-fire erosion. Some chipped stone artifacts we noted had burnt surfaces where they had protruded above the surface, but were unburnt below. The pattern of the patina on the rock of a slab-lined basin or pit oven showed that the surrounding sandy surface had lost several centimeters to erosion after the fire.

Much of the plateau area was open with unburned brush. It was surveyed with a few artifacts being found. While a metate was excavated, there was no evidence of long term habitation. At the open area of the survey, most of the time we walked through brush taking rest stops when there was shade to be found. It wasn’t a good place to live.

As we reached the edges of the mountain the foliage increased and more trees were found. This was also where the burned area was. Not surprisingly, the number of artifacts increased. The location there would have been shaded with a breeze for keeping the insects away.  Additionally, the erosion on the slopes may have generally tended to expose artifacts.  On the flat benchland, wind and water borne sendiments may have tended to cover, as well as expose, artifacts.

There was a known rock shelter in the survey area. It had been protected before the fire and had no damage. That fact that it was there wasn’t widely disseminated. This resulted with a couple of us stumbling over it. Surprise!

There was a pit oven found. These are always found to be emptied and what food resource was being cooked is unclear. Various lab analyses have suggested that they were used somewhat in the manner of Dutch ovens to slow roast various edible roots, tubers or cactus pads.

As can be seen in the photos, the extensive fire burned extremely hot in places and damaging thousands of acres. Since the fire, the rains had removed the ash and redistributed areas of the surface sediments.  Most of the material found was debitage and chipped stone bifaces. There were the occasional projectile points dating mostly to the Archaic period.
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