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Prehistory

BRIEF HISTORY OF UTAH
Ron Rood and Linda Thatcher

Utah's thousands of years of prehistory and its centuries of known recorded history are so distinctive and complex that a summary can only hint at the state's rich heritage. The synopsis offered here follows major themes in Utah history and includes some of the significant dates, events, and individuals.

Unique Setting Prehistory American Indians Explorers & Trappers Mormon Settlement Territorial Days Crossroads of the West
Mines & Minorities Transition Statehood Adjustment War & Depression Utah Today Bibliography

Anasazi pottery 

Anasazi corrugated vessel

Utah's prehistory is as diverse as its scenic topography, covering a period of more than 11,000 years. Archaeological sites have been identified in all corners of the state illustrating the ancient people of Utah were able to adapt to deserts, high mountains, badlands, and marshes.

The first people living in Utah are called the Paleoindians (11,000-8000 years ago) by archaeologists. The Paleoindians were hunters and gatherers who sometimes hunted now-extinct mammals like the mammoth. Paleoindian sites have been found across Utah but due to their age, they are very rare. Some Paleoindian camps along the shoreline of ancient Lake Gilbert have been identified by archaeologists reflecting Paleoindians' use of marsh environments. At about 8000 years ago, changes in weaponry styles and subsistence patterns mark the beginning of the Archaic period. During the Archaic, people were hunters and gatherers, and nomadic but they also lived in semi-permanent small villages and caves. During the Archaic (8000-2500 years ago), people made a variety of basketry for plant collecting and various stone spear and dart tips used in hunting. The atlatl, or spear thrower, was used from roughly 8000 to 2000 years ago in Utah. Danger Cave and Juke Box Cave near Wendover, Utah are two famous sites used during the Paleoindian and Archaic time periods.

Subsistence patterns began to slowly change around 2500 years ago. Corn and later beans and squash were introduced into Utah possibly from the south. Farming changed how people made a living. Across much of northern Utah, the Fremont (2500-600 years ago) adopted a farming lifestyle but they still heavily relied on hunting and gathering for much of their food. Further to the south, in the Four Corners region and across the southern portion of Utah, the Anasazi (2500-600 years ago) heavily relied on corn, beans and squash. The Anasazi had domesticated the turkey and it was also used as an important source of food and raw material. The Anasazi sometimes built multi-storied homes along cliff faces and around the heads of deep canyons. Cliff dwellings dating to over 700 years ago can be seen in southern Utah and in the Four-corners area.

Around AD 1300, the people we call Fremont and Anasazi are no longer visible in the archaeological record. Some areas were abandoned and new cultures moved into the region. The archaeological record changes and is most similar to what is seen for Archaic age sites. In many respects, people went back to a hunter and gatherer lifestyle.

 

UTAH CHAPTERS
The Land
American Indians
Trappers, Traders, & Explorers
Pioneers & Cowboys
Mining & Railroads
Statehood & the Progressive Era
From War to War
Utah Today