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It's a classic mystery story:

Archaeologists are not certain where they came from. Nor are they certain where they went or why they disappeared without a trace. And scientists can't begin to agree as to who their modern descendants are.Utah's enigmatic Fremont Indian culture, which thrived throughout the area from 500 A.D. to 1250 A.D., has remained a puzzle that has baffled scientists for decades. In fact, many researchers are now wondering if there even was a Fremont culture or whether instead there were several different cultures with some shared characteristics.

The Fremont Indians and the many mysteries surrounding them will be the subject of an extended exhibit at the University of Utah's Museum of Natural History from Oct. 13, 1989, to March 4, 1990.

And museum officials are hoping the exhibit will be the impetus for a permanent Fremont exhibit to display "the world's richest collection of Fremont artifacts."

"We've had this wonderful collection in storage all these years, and finally we get to bring out some of the goodies and put them on display," said Donald V. Hague, museum director.

Those goodies include a wide array of clothing, tools and other artifacts that are distinctively Fremont.

The Fremont are identified by artifacts exclusive to their culture: unique leather moccasins, stone balls, ornate clay figurines, "one-rod-and-bundle" basketry and distinctive surface manipulation of pottery designs.

Hague said the University of Utah has the best collection of Fremont artifacts anywhere in the world, thanks to decades of research and excavations by now-retired Jesse Jennings, a world-renowned anthropologist. Jennings and his U. colleagues excavated Fremont sites from virtually every area of the state, in the process defining the culture as it is known today.

The exhibit at the Natural History Museum will feature artifacts from Hogup Cave, Bull Creek, Bear River, Nawthis Village and Topaz Slough. One exhibit will focus on Fremont cave dwellers, another on marsh dwellers and yet others on desert and plateau dwellers.

Exhibits are titled "Exploring the Fremont," "Archaeologists at Work," "A Fremont Excavation" and `Utah: Heartland of the Fremont."

Museum visitors will see how archaeological sites are uncovered, and will be allowed to use sifting screens and look through microscopes to see how scientists identify plant remains.

"We as a state museum feel and need an obligation to share our collections with the state," Hague said. "And perhaps it will be the beginning of a traveling exhibit that can go from one end of the state to the other. Then we can better create an awareness among Utahns for a prehistoric culture that is uniquely Utahn."

The Fremont culture covered most of Utah, spreading a short distance into neighboring Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. The Colorado River and the neighboring Virgin Anasazi culture formed the southern boundary.

The culture is characterized by a flexible and adaptive way of life with considerable regional variations.

The Fremont were horticulturists who also relied heavily on hunting. Those hunting scenes are depicted on elaborate petroglyphs etched on canyon walls across the state.

"The Fremont have been something of an enigma ever since they were first defined in 1931 by Noel Morss," said state archaeologist David Madsen.

"Compared to other prehistoric groups, we know a great deal about the Fremont. But every time archaeologists try to define who they were and how they lived, they seem to slip through our fingers."

Hague said a number of museums throughout the state have small Fremont collections. But it would be more meaningful if there was a comprehensive exhibit to interpret the culture on a statewide basis.

The exhibit at the Museum of Natural History will be coordinated by Madsen, one of the foremost experts on the Fremont culture.


(Additional information)

Scholars to present lectures

In connection with the Museum of Natural History's Fremont exhibit, scholars will offer a series of lectures on the Fremont. All of the programs will be in the U. Fine Arts Auditorium and admission is free.

The lectures include:

-Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m., "Exploring the Fremont," by David Madsen, state archaeologist.

-Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m., "People of the Valleys and Uplands: A View from Central Utah," by James Wilde, Brigham Young University.

-Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m., "Fremont Trade," by Joel Janetski, Brigham Young University.

-Nov. 4, 3 p.m., "Rock Art: Evidence of Fremont and Anasazi Relationships," by Sally Cole.

-Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m., "The Fremont: An Indigenous Perspective," a panel discussion by representatives of the Shoshone, Ute, Hopi and Paiute tribes.