Nine Mile Canyon

Nine Mile Canyon Road Improvement Project

Between 2010 and 2012, Montgomery Archaeological Consultants, Inc. (MOAC) assisted Carbon and Duchesne Counties in completing the required federal and state cultural resource requirements for the ambitious Nine Mile Canyon Road Improvement Project (NMRIP). Nine Mile Canyon includes one of the densest concentrations of rock art in the U.S., as well as hundreds of prehistoric structures, including granaries for storing corn, pithouses, and small Fremont villages inhabited between the 5th and 12th centuries AD. In order to ensure that these irreplaceable resources were not impacted, MOAC conducted extensive record searches to identify previously documented sites and new systematic surveys to identify all of the visible cultural resources in the project area. These inventories identified nearly 290 sites in the corridor, all of which were successfully avoided during construction.

During construction, MOAC archaeologists monitored earth moving equipment in an effort to identify buried cultural resources before they were damaged. In addition to the sites identified during survey, the monitors identified another 48 archaeological sites in buried contexts. These sites, which were tested or excavated, are providing exciting new information about the prehistoric inhabitants of the canyon. Prior to the NMRIP, very little scientific excavation had occurred in the canyon. In all, MOAC excavated one large pithouse, four additional pit structures, and dozens of roasting and storage pits. In addition, MOAC collected thousands of artifacts and scientific samples. Until recently, archaeologists only had a limited understanding of the prehistoric occupants’ use of the canyon based almost entirely on what could be seen on the surface. The recently discovered sites and artifacts are providing insight into how small-scale horticulturalists lived and worked in the canyon.

Figure 1_smallFigure 1. MOAC Archaeologists excavating at 42Dc3053, a field house with associated corn processing area.

The data gathered during the NMRIP is being analyzed and used to address a host of important questions concerning the Fremont Indians’ use of Nine Mile Canyon and the greater West Tavaputs Plateau. Radiocarbon dates are being used to determine both when and how agriculture was first introduced in the canyon. Chronometric dating also suggests that ceramic vessels were not used in the canyon until sometime after AD 1000. The radiocarbon dates and pollen from some of the roasting pits located in Nine Mile Canyon are suggestive of maize agriculture after AD 1250, a time in which many archaeologists believe the Fremont had already disappeared from the area.

Figure 2_smallFigure 2. Site 42Cb3062, a classic Fremont pithouse with the burnt and collapsed roof beams.

Laboratory analysis and report writing are still in progress, but the findings will be submitted to federal and state agencies in a technical report format. It is hoped that the results of the project can also be published in scholarly and popular journals sometime in 2014.

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