Utah’s Prehistory in Artifacts

Written by Erin Haycock

Editor’s note: The artifacts you are about to see have all been looted, or stolen.

Looting is the illegal removal of archaeological materials from archaeological sites. Not only is this illegal, but it strips artifacts of their scientific value and it debases their cultural value to descendant communities.

Utah Public Archaeology Network, through the Utah Division of State History, is currently the custodian of these artifacts. They were surrendered to our office through an “Amnesty Day,” a period of time when people can turn in artifacts in their possession, no questions asked.

There is a lot of controversy around who should have these artifacts, if anyone should have them at all. There are questions about what to do with the artifacts, and questions about where they can be curated.

Until these problems are solved, we decided to let these artifacts tell their stories.

Bull Creek projectile points

Bull Creek Projectile Points

Bull creek projectile points were first identified in Bull Creek, Utah in 1981 and were utilized from approximately 900 to 750 years ago by the Fremont and Kayenta cultures. Like many other projectile points, these points have likely been used and reworked multiple times. Both chert and obsidian are common stones used to produce these projectile points.  

Lithic Debitage


Debitage is the result of creating stone tools and projectile points. These flakes break off as a stone core is worked and may be modified later for tasks that require a quick cutting edge. Archaeologists can also use debitage to determine if a site was used as a quarry, the first stages of tool production, or if reworking and refining occurred as the main activity based on how much weathered outer surface known as cortex is present, and flake size.

Groundstone tools – manos


Manos are common artifacts throughout the world and are used to grind down grains and starches like a pestle when used with a flat grinding rock called a Metate. These artifacts can retain traces of the materials they were used on. At a site known as North Creek Shelter in Utah, a Mano and Metate contained traces of potato flour that was dated to be about 10,100 to 10,900 years old. This is the earliest documented use potatoes in the United States.

One-rod-and-bundle basketry


This is an example of one rod and bundle style basketry commonly used by the Fremont. This style is different from the styles used by contemporary groups of Ancestral Puebloans and the later Numic-speaking groups like the Utes and Shoshone. Basketry like this may have been used to transport food such as pinyon, varies berries, nuts, and tubers, or to harvest the corn, beans, and squash the Fremont farmed to supplement their diet.

Zea mays


Maize was farmed throughout the American Southwest to different degree and would later become a staple in the diet of many cultures throughout prehistory. It was ground into meal using a mano and metate and could be stored for later use. Ancient cobs of corn are not what we see today, averaging about eight rows of kernels, where todays average is around 16 rows of kernels.