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Range Creek treasures will be on display at U.

Annual 'basement' event is Saturday at museum

Weaving and a Fremont Indian paddle are some of the artifacts from the Range Creek area that will be displayed at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Weaving and a Fremont Indian paddle are some of the artifacts from the Range Creek area that will be displayed at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

The public will get a first glimpse of treasures from the newly announced Range Creek archaeological district Saturday when the Utah Museum of Natural History holds its annual "What's in the Basement" program.

Duncan Metcalfe, curator of archaeology at the museum, said he plans to set up a table "with a range of artifacts" for the public to see while a PowerPoint presentation plays on a computer in the background.

"They'll include some ceramics, stone tools and some of the organic material that we've recovered," he said.

Basketry and cordage, fragments of both decorated and plain gray pottery, arrowheads and two-faced tools like knives will be available for inspection.

"We haven't done any excavations" at Range Creek, Metcalfe added, but during surveys of the surface material, some material was collected for study, and the artifacts visitors will see are among those.

Members of the public knew little about Range Creek until June when state officials announced Utah had taken possession of the Wilcox ranch, about 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The ranch had been sold by Waldo Wilcox to a public land trust group for $2.5 million, with much of the money a federal appropriation. Then the state acquired it.

The thousands of acres include an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 archaeological sites, largely in pristine condition. Much of the preliminary action was done quietly to prevent an onslaught by illegal pot-hunters while details were worked out. When the acquisition was announced, state archaeologist Kevin Jones said a management plan was being developed, which should allow for public visits.

In a telephone interview this week, Metcalfe said he was "both excited and nervous" about Saturday's display of Range Creek artifacts.

During the "What's in the Basement" event, many other objects will be displayed that are not usually seen by visitors to the museum, located on President's Circle at the top of 200 South. In fact, only 1 percent of the more than 1 million items in the museum are on regular display because of the lack of exhibition space.

Regular admission prices will apply to the event, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, said spokeswoman Patti Carpenter.

"Since this year's event falls in October, we're featuring collections that would be fun to have at a Halloween party," said museum executive director Sarah George in a press release. "We'll have on display wonderful masks from around the world, bats of all sizes and many insects that look pretty scary."

Other highlights include:

Shells from the 35,000-item collection of marine, fresh water and land mollusks. Many of the creatures represented in the collection are extinct. The collection has such items as cowrie and cone shells from the Philippines and freshwater mussels collected in this continent in the 1880s. Heidi Bloomfield, curator of the collection, will be there to answer questions.

Thousand-year-old water pitchers, bowls and drinking mugs from archaeological excavations. Baskets, pottery and stone tools dating from 500 AD to the mid-1800s will be displayed by Kathy Kankainen, anthropology collections manager.

More than 300 bird and mammal specimens found in Utah. Eric Rickert, curator of vertebrates, hosts the display. During a self-guided tour, the public can see more than 50,000 specimens from owls to falcons and avocets to gray wolves.