A team of scientists from Brigham Young University is working on an archaeological survey of the vast Capitol Reef National Park.
"The remoteness of the region has helped to preserve some very interesting sites which, in a less remote area, certainly would have been badly disturbed by now," said BYU archaeologist Shane Baker. "Almost none of the park has been examined. We're really just at square one."Baker is part of the BYU team the National Park Service has contracted to do the five-year archaeological survey of the park. Because the Park Service is guided by a preservation policy, there are no plans for full-blown excavations.
"We just want to leave the stuff out there," Capitol Reef archaeologist Lee Kreutzer said. "We're here to preserve and protect."
BYU's goal simply is to find what types of artifacts remain inside the park, record them, hypothesize how they were used and by whom.
For the past three summers, university archaeologists have worked with BYU undergraduates on the survey. The hope is to inventory 10 percent of the 378-square-mile park - hitting upon all types of geography.
Students walk the survey areas in a line, about 20 yards apart. They are taught to look for signs of ancient human activity, such as stone flakes chipped away to create projectile points, pieces of pottery, and remnant foundations of ancient structures.
Once they find an artifact-rich site, researchers return to dig a little deeper. They take samples for carbon dating. Soils and burned debris may also be sampled and analyzed in a lab to determine what types of food people were eating at a particular time.
The team recently scoured the remnants of an ancient home built high on a remote canyon wall. Park rangers had located it earlier in the summer, but even with the site carefully recorded on topographic map, the team struggled to locate it within the maze of canyons.
They eventually found the remnants of a stone and clay hut built into a canyon overhang. Ancient finger indentations could be seen in the clay wall of the hut, which was about 15 feet by 10 feet.
BYU archaeologist Rich Talbot figured it was occupied by Fremont Indians 800 to 1,000 years ago.
But in between the time the team relocated the site, vandals evidently knocked down most of the wall, and artifacts were displaced. The BYU team hopes to get to other sites before vandals strike.
"People seem to have an instinct for collecting things and we all like souvenirs," Kreutzer said. "Everybody likes to pick up one little thing and they think it doesn't make a difference, but it does."