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25 June 2004
Ancient Indian settlement found in Utah

For more than 50 years, rancher Waldo Wilcox kept most outsiders off his land and the secret under wraps: a string of ancient Indian settlements so remarkably well-preserved that arrowheads and beads are still lying out in the open. Archeologists are calling it one of the most spectacular finds in the West.
     Hidden deep inside Utah's nearly inaccessible Book Cliffs region (USA), 130 miles from Salt lake City, the prehistoric villages run for 12 miles and include hundreds of rock art panels, cliffside granaries, stone houses built halfway underground, rock shelters, and the mummified remains of long-ago inhabitants. The site was occupied for at least 3,000 years until it abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, when the Fremont people,  a collection of hunter-gatherers and farmers, mysteriously vanished.
     What sets this ancient site apart from other, better-known ones in Utah, Arizona or Colorado is that it has been left virtually untouched by looters, with the ground still littered with arrowheads, arrow shafts, beads and pottery shards in places. "It was just like walking into a different world," said Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones, who was overcome on his first visit in 2002.
     The secret is only now coming to light, after the federal and state governments paid Wilcox $2.5 million for the 4,200-acre ranch, which is surrounded by wilderness study lands. The state took ownership earlier this year but has not decided yet how to control public access. "It's a national treasure. There may not be another place like it in the continental 48 states," Duncan Metcalfe, a curator with the Utah Museum of Natural History, said Thursday by satellite phone from the site.Metcalfe said a team of researchers has documented about 200 pristine sites occupied as many as 4,500 years ago, "and we've only looked in a few places."
     Wilcox said some skeletons have been exposed by shifting winds under dry ledges. "They were little people, the ones I've seen dug up. They were wrapped like Egyptians, in strips of beaver skin and cedar board, preserved as perfect," he said.
     Archaeologists believe the sites may have been first occupied as much as 7,000 years ago; the settlements are along the Range Creek, which sustained ancient people in the canyon until it possibly dried up in a drought, Wilcox said. While many structures are still standing or visible, others could be buried. Archaeologists have not done any excavations yet, simply because "we have too big a task just to document" sites in plain view, Jones said.

Source: Las Vegas Sun (24 June 2004)

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