Who Were the Fremont People?

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Script from my ARCH365 Episode (click here to listen)

Some of the most spectacular rock art of the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau was created by the Fremont, but who were the Fremont?

There are so many fascinating prehistoric peoples that made the Great Basin and American Southwest their home. The Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, the Hohokam irrigation canals and ballcourts of southern Arizona, the gorgeous pottery designs of the Mimbres of New Mexico, and so on, are some of the more well-known prehistoric cultures. Outside of archaeology, one of the lesser recognized, but incredibly unique, prehistoric peoples of the Great Basin and Southwest are the Fremont.

The name for this culture comes from the Fremont River in Utah, where the Navajo and Ute Native American tribes discovered the first Fremont sites. The Fremont lived in the sagebrush and pinon high desert region of the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau, so areas of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. They occupied this region from 600 to 1400 AD. It is more difficult to trace the Fremont on the landscape as a distinct culture after 1200 AD. Their lifestyle may have changed after long periods of drought and competition for resources with their neighbors. The Fremont were roughly adjacent to and roughly were contemporaneous with the more famous Ancestral Puebloans, who constructed pueblos and cliff dwellings throughout the southwest.

Well, the very fact that they aren’t easy to classify makes them interesting. This was a diverse culture, differing widely across the landscape. While some Fremont people were building above ground structures, others were constructing subsurface pithouses; some lived in large groups, while others lived in smaller bands—all contemporaneously. Consequently, archaeologists have struggled to define the Fremont as a distinct culture as an entire group since there are so many exceptions. They were not a cohesive group, demonstrating their flexibility to adapt and change.

They were primarily hunter-gatherers, supplementing their diet with farming. Pithouse villages with 10 to 100 houses, dotted the landscape, although it’s unlikely that they were all inhabited at the same time. These small villages tended to be located near streams, where fields could be easily irrigated. Granaries, small structures that stored food, were built into hard to reach places for the lean times. The Fremont built communal structures, essentially an oversized pit house that could accommodate more than just a family; they would also build large structures at the center of their village. Artifacts like turquoise beads and other exotic materials have been found in these structures, suggesting that some kind of ceremonial activities took place.

The Fremont made all kinds of fascinating artifacts and artwork, including clay figurines. They are fragile pieces of art since most were made of unfired clay and are typically not larger than the palm of your hand. These figurines typically have a trapezoidal shape and sometimes have arms, hands, legs, male, female and androgynous forms, hair-dresses, tattoos, jewelry, and so on. In some areas of the southwest, they would have been used for ceremonies, while in others they may have been toys for children.

They also had a unique rock art style that is truly stunning. The rock art includes pecked and painted images of rhomboid to trapezoidal – shaped bodies with broad shoulders, wearing elaborate necklaces, earrings, and headdresses. There are typically zoomorphs, animals, on the panels, such as deer or elk. Figures tend to be located on south or west facing sandstone walls, possibly associated with water or canyon confluences.

The primary way to see Fremont archaeology is through rock art. Dinosaur National Monument has some of the most spectacular Fremont rock art in the west. Just remember that you can’t touch the rock art or remove any artifacts from sites located nearby. That’s unethical and illegal.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/care/learn/historyculture/fremont.htm

http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/american_indians/thefremont.html

Archaeology Podcast Network/ARCH365 Podcast:

https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/hq-downloads/arch365-289

Bone of Contention: Episode 4 (October 14,2016)

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In this episode, we explore the study of human remains with an emphasis on treating every individual with respect and care. Two bioarchaeologists share their experiences of working with human remains and how to best treat the individuals. Three archaeologists share their collective experiences of excavating a cemetery in New Jersey. Please note that all of the stories recorded were shared by professionals in the field who work within CRM law; this podcast does not endorse the disturbance of burials/human remains without thorough consultation, working within CRM law, and extreme care.

Random Musings While Surveying 75 Miles in 8 Days

All undergraduate archaeology theory courses briefly cover the introduction of a feminist lens in archaeological interpretation, with it typically tied in with post-modernism and post-processualism. Numerous articles and books outline the importance of looking beyond gendered perspectives (i.e. it’s unlikely that only men knew how to create stone tools, etc.). What is not covered in—or at least does not appear to be— academic courses and beyond is the need for the mere presence of women in the field, in the actual practice of archaeology. Multiple viewpoints are a good thing. As a post-processual/processual-plus archaeologist (yes, I’m one of those archaeologists), I’m all for varying interpretations of the archaeological record (within reason). However, are we actually seeing this happening in the field? In my, albeit short, career as an archaeologist, it is not unusual for me to be the only female archaeologist in a Federal agency office or on a CRM crew. Why?

Obviously, the Women in Archaeology blog and podcast indicate that we are out there, but is it enough of a presence? There could be any number of reasons why I tend to be the lone wolf. It could be regional. There could be more women in office-bound/higher-up positions, so I simply don’t see them in the field. And yet, as woman in her early 30s, I just don’t see very many women in my age group and up directly in the field. I remember there were far more women than men studying archaeology at my college. I remember there were far more women than men at my field school. I remember there were only female interns at the various archaeology internships in which I participated. So, where are they now?

I recently read Charles J. Peliska’s ‘Results of a Survey for Field Archaeologists/Cultural Managers’ for an episode of the Women in Archaeology Podcast. I highly recommend checking it out, as it gives some insight into how we’re being paid, what the job market looks like, issues of discrimination, etc. There were two things that particularly struck me: 1) the decrease of archaeologists in their 40s and up, and 2) the relatively high rate of those who have witnessed or were the victim of sexual harassment.

Addressing age, Peliska notes that the physicality and inconsistency of our work can cause archaeologists to shift careers. Furthermore, since many of the current positions in CRM and at Federal agencies tend to be seasonal, health insurance, retirement plans, and maternity leave are typically not provided. After a certain age, you have to start thinking about the future. With a busted knee, I know I need to consider what the future holds in store for me (i.e. employment with healthcare). I do wonder if the absence of older archaeologists working in the field may have a connection to the lack of childcare offered. You can’t exactly strap a child to your back while surveying. What needs to change to better support field archaeologists in order to keep them in the field?

As for sexual harassment, sadly, I’m not too surprised at the high rate of incidents witnessed or experienced. Of the 479 survey participants, 60.9% had seen/heard sexual jokes but no one seemed openly uncomfortable, and 30.3% had witnessed or been the victim of jokes or teasing of a sexual nature. Harassment and sexual discrimination can come in a variety of forms, some of which may seem harmless at the time. I find that ‘casual sexism’ is far more prevalent than overt sexism—at least in my experience. For example, I was the assistant crew chief for a large-scale project in which the crew chiefs were changed each session. One of these crew chiefs would only ask my male coworker for project information, assistance with equipment, etc. He would have been mortified if I said he was being sexist, but his actions said otherwise. Has casual to overt sexism made it such a difficult work environment that women tend to veer away from field jobs at a certain point?

So, here are some questions to end this stream of conscious-esque article:

  1. How does fieldwork need to change?
  2. How do we encourage more women to work in the field?
  3. What needs to change to make the practice of archaeology a more welcoming environment?
  4. How can we, as a community of archaeologists, create a zero tolerance policy for all kinds of harassment?
  5. In what ways can Federal agencies and CRM companies provide support to archaeologists with families?
  6. How can archaeology societies/organizations better approach issues of discrimination and harassment?

 

Works Cited

Peliska, Charles J.

2016 Results of A Survey for Field Archaeologists/Cultural Resource Managers. Electronic document, https://docs.google.com/document/d/15v_MIeKg3VOEPUYsU-ZbOvbrvOZSlGu1GtRGmwnFBv0/pub, accessed May 27, 2016.