10,000 Years Ago: The first people
Brad Wolverton, Paleoindian
We call them Paleoindians, and they lived here soon after the Ice Age ended, 10,000 years ago. So did mammoths, giant sloths, camels, giant bison, and other animals that are now extinct.
The mostly nomadic Paleoindians hunted these and other animals, birds, and fish. They also gathered seeds, berries, and other plants.
Utah was cooler and wetter then. Paleoindians camped along the shores of lakes and streams, including the Great Salt Lake, which was much bigger then and not yet salty. Here they could get foods like cattails, roots, berries, birds, rabbits, and fish.
The oldest inhabited sites archaeologists have found in Utah are in caves near the Great Salt Lake.
Around 8,000 years ago, the climate was getting drier and warmer. Lifestyles changed. Archaeologists call the culture of this time the Archaic culture.
Archaic people were hunters and gathers, usually moving around as they followed food sources. Their shelters were usually caves or wickiups made from brush.
By now, people were making baskets, which they used for collecting seeds, pinyon nuts, and other plants. They also used baskets for cooking. (How do you cook in a basket? Cover the basket with pine pitch, fill it with water, then drop in hot rocks to boil the water.)
For hunting, Archaic people made several kinds of spear points. An atlatl, or spear-thrower, helped them hurl small spears faster and farther. But they also would have eaten insects,
The Archaic people left behind evocative rock art, and you can see echoes of their lives in the Barrier Canyon style of rock art.
Life began to slowly change—particularly as people learned to farm corn, beans, and squash. Two broad cultures evolved: the Anasazi and the Fremont cultures.
Fremont is the general term for people who lived in northern and eastern Utah. The Fremont:
The Anasazi lived in southern Utah and the Four Corners area. Over the centuries, the Anasazi culture evolved. At different times, the Anasazi:
By A.D. 750 both Fremont and Anasazi had adopted a new technology: bows and arrows.
Starting sometime after A.D. 1250 the Anasazi moved out of Utah (south), the Fremont culture disappeared, and people in Utah stopped farming and went back to hunting and gathering.
Why? There are a couple of likely reasons:
The climate turned drier, with long periods of drought, including a 30-year drought that began in 1270. With a growing population, food may have become scarce. We know there was violence during this time—a common reaction when resources are scarce.
New groups had migrated into the area. We know that Numic-speaking people migrated to Utah by A.D. 1200. These people may have driven out the Fremont and Anasazi populations. Or the Fremont may have assimilated into the culture of these newcomers.
Also, Navajos moved in and were certainly in the Four Corner area by A.D. 1500.
Over thousands of years, much changed for people living in the Utah area. Another tremendous change would be forced upon them when Euro Americans—first explorers, then trappers and traders, then settlers—moved into their territory.