Fremont culture

Published on December 22, 2012 by Amy

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Fremont Culture
Fremont Culture

The Fremont culture or Fremont people is a pre-Columbian archaeological culture which received its name from the Fremont River in the U.S. state of Utah where the first Fremont sites were discovered. The Fremont River itself is named for John Charles Frémont, an American explorer. It inhabited sites in what is now Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho and Colorado from AD 700 to 1300. It was adjacent to, roughly contemporaneous with, but distinctly different from the Anasazi culture.

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Fremont Indian State Park in the Clear Creek Canyon area in south-central Utah contains the biggest Fremont culture site in Utah. A recent, major discovery of a new site at Range Creek, Utah, has drawn a great deal of interest because it has stayed undisturbed for centuries. Nearby Nine Mile Canyon has long been known for its large collection of Fremont rock art. Other sites are found in Capitol Reef National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Zion National Park and Arches National Park.


While there is as yet no firm consensus as to the Fremont comprising a single, cohesive group with a common language, ancestry or lifeway, there are several aspects of their material culture that give credence to this notion. First, it is well known by researchers that those referred to as the Fremont lived a lifestyle that revolved largely around foraging and corn horticulture, in other words a continuum of fairly reliable subsistence strategies that no doubt varied from place to place and time to time. This shows up in the archaeological record at most village sites and long term camps as a collection of butchered, cooked and then discarded bone from mostly deer and rabbits, charred corn cobs with the kernels removed, and wild edible plant remains. Other unifying characteristics include the manufacture of relatively expedient gray ware pottery and a signature style of basketry and rock art. Most of the Fremont lived in small single and extended family units comprising villages ranging from two to a dozen pithouse structures, with only a few having been occupied at any one time. Still, exceptions to this rule exist (partly why the Fremont have earned a reputation for being so hard to define), including an unusually large village in the Parowan Valley of southwestern Utah, the large and extensively excavated village of Five Finger Ridge at the above mentioned Fremont Indian State Park, and others, all appearing to be anomalous in that they were either occupied for a long period of time, were simultaneously occupied by a large number of people, 60 or more at any given moment, or both.

Fremont people generally wore moccasins like their Great Basin ancestors rather than sandals like the Ancestral Puebloans. They were part-time farmers who lived in scattered semi-sedentary farmsteads and small villages, never entirely giving up traditional hunting and gathering for more risky full-time farming. They made pottery, built houses and food storage facilities, and raised corn, but overall they lagged behind the major traditions of the Greater Southwest, while at the same time copying hunter-gatherer techniques of their regional neighbors.

Recent Developments

The Range Creek Canyon site complex is unambiguously identified with the Fremont culture, and because of its astonishingly pristine state, promises to bring an immense amount of archaeological insight to this hitherto obscure culture.

Recent studies have shown that Fremont people are among the ancestors of several modern tribes of the West, but where they went and how they became incorporated into other traditions remains largely a matter of speculation. Some of the Fremont People could have relocated to south-central Idaho, while other might be among the ancestors of the later Dismal River culture of Nebraska and Kansas. Those that had lived previously in southern Utah might have relocated southward, joining already stressed Ancestral Pueblo communities there. Still other might have been absorbed by Numic-speaking bands of hunter-gatherers moving into the region from the southwest.

The Fremont traditions and culture were halted beginning close to 950 CE in northeast Utah. This was due to climate change in the region that the Fremont people could not easily adapt to for sustenance or agricultural reasons. The culture was able to find a new home and continue to flourish in the northwestern part of Utah.

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