Goshute Indians want to make sure that they are included in decisions about an archaeological dig at Dugway Proving Ground - excavations of a Western desert cave that may have been inhabited 12,000 years ago.
A preliminary survey shows that people lived in the cave during widely separated periods. The topmost level is where sheepherders from early in the 20th century built a camp, and below that are Fremont Indian artifacts that date from about 1,000 years ago.Goshutes may be descendants of the Fremont Indians.
"The tribal chairman and vice chairperson instructed me to work with Dugway and the state of Utah, so that the tribe would be included in the process," said Danny Quintana, a Salt Lake attorney who represents the tribe's Skull Valley Band.
"Presently they're being excluded - more due to lack of communications than intent."
Quintana stressed that the Goshutes have an excellent relationship with the state and with Dugway. He said Indian leaders will meet with both to make sure that the governments comply with federal laws, including one governing excavations of ancient graves.
Goshutes want to be involved in the process "because that is the aboriginal territory of the tribe," he said.
The excavation is under the control of Dugway officials, who were not available for comment because base employees take Fridays off.
State archaeologist David Madsen said Dugway initiated the exploration and state experts are helping them. The cave is a wonderful one for several reasons, not the least of which is that it has been protected on the military base. That means no vandals or pot-hunters have churned its layers.
"The whole site goes back at least 7,500 years, and probably farther than that," Madsen said.
A test hole sunk a few years ago found that people lived there at least that long ago. Because it didn't reach the bottom of the living site, the cave's inhabitants probably were there before 7,500 years ago.
Also, "there's a lithic (chipped rock) scatter out in front with some tools associated with Paleo-Indians," he said.
These artifacts of the "Great Basin stemmed" variety, seem to have been left by archaic Indians who lived during the end of the last Ice Age, possibly 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, hunting woolly mammoth and other large Pleistocene animals. Such sites are extremely rare and valuable because they give a view of some of the country's earliest inhabitants.
When the last Ice Age was ending, a river flowed between the Sevier Basin and what is now the Great Salt Lake. At that time, the cave was next to the river, which Madsen described as a "real nice riverine environment, probably with a variety of late Pleistocene megafauna," or huge animals.
Archaeologists are removing half of the cave, leaving the remains in the other side intact for future work. They are clearing an entire layer at a time. Madsen conceded this is a tedious, detailed approach, with scientists gradually exposing layers and mapping every find to the smallest chip from the making of projectile points.
At the top, sheepherders had leveled part of the cave and built a rock wall as a windbreak. "We did find an array of artifacts, tomato cans from 1910" and the like.
"It was probably just a sheep camp."
The cave was occupied intermittently, he said. On top of an occupation layer is "a large, sterile, aeolian, windblown deposit," sealing in the artifacts.
That helps archaeologists to separate the remains of one group from a later occupation, since the different cultures are set apart from each other.