Fremont Excavation Site at Medals Plaza

Jami Balls

The Utah Transit Authority sponsored the dedication of plaques located at the Delta Center TRAX Station on November 21, 2000 to commemorate the discovery of a Fremont Indian site by workers constructing the light rail system. Initially the discovery in the middle of South Temple Street from 200 to 300 West posed a set back to the work, but now is seen as a valuable opportunity and vital learning experience. During the 2002 Olympic Games nearly 24,000 people will come together at the Medals Plaza where about 1000 years earlier, a group of ancient people resided.

Among the various features located in the site was a characteristic late Fremont style pithouse. The shallow construction stretched nearly four feet square and contained a ventilator tunnel, used to vent smoke from the central hearth as well as to draw air into it. Within the structure remained several artifacts including a small ceramic bowl, a larger ceramic vessel, and a grinding stone. Unfortunately, many of the artifacts were broken by pipelines dug through the street along with half of the structure itself being destroyed. Two other circular pithouses were found, but both severely cut through with pipelines and other such utilities.

Also, a very large pit nearly a meter deep and fifteen meters in diameter consisting of many smaller pits and two other possible structures was uncovered. However, its purpose has not been clearly identified. There were several other smaller pits, reaching sizes of two meters in diameter, which were probably used for storage purposes and one retained the human remains whose discovery initiated the excavation. Finally, within the intersection of South Temple and 300 West, two shallow features, interpreted to be armadas, that is, roofed outdoor work areas, were also uncovered.

Many artifacts have been recovered from the site typical of Fremont village sites. Ceramics in particular were found in large amounts along with chipped stones, tools, and bone detritus. Corn remains were recovered in abundance and soil samples are still being analyzed for pollen and seed remains. “The bone remains that were recovered indicate a significant use of a variety of animals, from small mammals and fish and birds to larger mammals, including bison.” Ultimately, it is believed that the Fremont diet depended principally on corn and other vegetation and animals from the area provided a notable variety.

Following radiocarbon dating, the site appears to have been occupied predominantly around 1000 AD with a second occupation occurring in the 1200s AD. In the 1980s, an excavation a few blocks away at 300 South and 200 West under a pioneer cemetery dated to this same 1000 AD period. It is very likely that the two sites are part of one large Fremont site, which most likely continues northward to the area under the Medals Plaza. As State Archaeologist Kevin Jones said, “It is not often that we’re reminded in the city that history goes back more than a hundred years, that there are remnants of an ancient culture right under our feet.” Hopefully, some of those attending the medals ceremonies will be aware not only of the present history unfolding, but also of the ancient history right below their feet.

Sources: Kevin Jones, “TRAX Plaques Mark Fremont Site in SLC” Currents, News of the Utah State Historical Society Vol. L1; Rich Talbot, Office of Public Archaeology at Brigham Young University