Historic Archaeology

For our final post of Archaeology Month, we turned to Samantha Kirkley, the State Coordinator for Project Archaeology. She is based at Southern Utah University and has worked with us here at Frontier Homestead on a variety of topics. We asked her to explain a little bit about Historic Archaeology.

Archaeology is a sub-discipline of anthropology and can be defined as the study of people from the past.  It is often defined into two areas of research: Prehistoric and Historic.  While much of the theory and practice are similar, Historic Archaeology has a

Historic Artifacts Courtesy of Samantha Kirkley

Historic Artifacts
Courtesy of Samantha Kirkley

unique ability to bring the story of past people to life through artifacts, historic structures, oral histories, personal and government records, and landscape.  Often, the mundane items such as buttons, bottles, cans, stove parts, and the like tell us the most about the daily lives of the inhabitants of a particular location.

Historic Archaeology focuses on the study of people from the recent past.  Some have tried to define it as the archaeology aided by written records; but, in many cases, archaeology enhances our understanding of written history.  Although, written records extend back 5000+ years ago, historic archaeology begins with the first European colonizing efforts in the 1400’s and follows numerous lines of inquiry into modern times.

Some of the most notable work in this specialized field include the recent excavations at Jamestown and metal detection archaeology at the Battle of Little Big Horn.   A few historic sites worth preserving and visiting in our area include Old Iron Town, the Caretaker’s Cabin at Cedar Breaks, the Mountain Meadows Massacre Site, and Silver Reef in Washington County.  Remember to leave artifacts where you find them, even that old bottle.

Caretaker's Cabin at Cedar Breaks Courtesy of Samantha Kirkley

Caretaker’s Cabin at Cedar Breaks
Courtesy of Samantha Kirkley


Charcoal Kiln at Old Irontown

Charcoal Kiln at Old Irontown





Here are a few links if you would like more information about some of the places Samantha mentioned:

Jamestown Archaeology

Little Bighorn Archaeology

Old Irontown




Rock Art: A Primer

Indigenous people in this region created rock art for many reasons – to tell a story, to convey religious or spiritual beliefs, to record a significant event, and to express themselves artistically. Rock art is not a true writing system, but uses symbols and figures to convey a message.

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs Photo: Alex Santiago Courtesy of Cedar City Brian Head Tourism Bureau

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs
Photo: Alex Santiago
Courtesy of Cedar City – Brian Head Tourism Bureau

Rock art is evident in caves, on cliff walls and on boulders. Rock art occurs all over the world, some as old as 30,000 years. Rock art in this region dates back as long ago as 1000 B.C (Great Basin Curvilinear style) and as recently as A.D. 1800’s (Southern Paiute).




  • Rock Art: A general term for the pecking, incising, or painting of designs onto rock surfaces.
  • Petroglyph: A design chiseled or chipped out a rock surface.
  • Pictograph: A design painted on a rock surface.

Here are some sites in our area to see some of the world’s most amazing rock art:

Parowan Gap

Fremont Indian State Park

Lion’s Mouth Cave

Anasazi Ridge

Remember whether visiting these sites or discovering any of Utah’s incredible rock art sites, please be respectful. Many sites are legally protected and criminal prosecution could result from any form of defacement.

The Southern Paiute

The Southern Paiutes are the living descendants of ancient Numic speakers, a group which includes the Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, Goshute, Ute and Shoshone people.  At the time of the first contact with Euro-Americans they lived from the Rocky Mountains to northern California and from central Idaho south to the Colorado River.



The Numic speaking people arrived in Utah about 700 years ago.  They originally came from the Death Valley area (southwest Nevada, southern California).  Favored dwelling places for the Numic were caves or rock overhangs, or brush shelters called wickiups. Constructed of locally available resources (grass, cattails, sagebrush, willows, pine boughs), wickiups were designed according to weather and needs.

The Southern Paiute people were nomadic hunters and gatherers who depended on wild plants and animals.  They also ate fish, waterfowl, and marsh plants.  They gathered seeds and hunted game animals such as deer, bison, elk, mountain sheep, antelope, and rabbits.  Insects such as Mormon crickets and grasshoppers were also gathered and eaten.

A Paiute camp.

A Paiute camp.









From spring through fall, the Southern Paiute would travel in small family bands, fishing, hunting and gathering seeds, as well as developing complex irrigation systems for local gardens.  In the fall they would gather to harvest ripe pine nuts. During winters several families would gather to form a winter village where they would share food they had gathered and stored during the warmer months.

Burden baskets

Burden baskets

Among other innovative crafts, the Paiute people were skilled basket makers.  They made winnowing trays that were used for parching seeds and winnowing wild seeds and nuts.  They also made large carrying baskets (burden baskets) for collecting wild foods, cradle boards for carrying babies, as well as water jugs. In addition, based on the construction materials and design, archaeologists have identified a pottery type recognized as being distinctly “Paiute.

Celebrate Archaeology at Frontier Homestead

A mock dig is one of the activities being presented.

A mock dig is one of the activities being presented.

Frontier Homestead State Park welcomes archaeologists young and old and their families to participate in its annual Utah Archaeology Day on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in activities involving Native American games, history, traditional crafts and skills, and visit with a variety of demonstrators. Boy Scouts who participate in the event can earn their Indian Lore merit badge and complete some of the Archaeology badge requirements. Archaeology Day will take place from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Cost per person is $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family.

Archaeology Day is the kick-off for a series of activities sponsored by Frontier Homestead State Park, the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau, Project

Traditional crafts and skills.

Traditional crafts and skills.

Archaeology, Transcon Environmental, Southern Utah University-College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Intersearch, and the Pizza Cart; and, co-sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Home Depot, and Lin’s Fresh Market.

The celebration of Utah Archaeology and Preservation Month continues on Wednesday May 11 at 7:00 pm. Come enjoy the camaraderie of the Iron County Historical Society and meet historic archaeologist and co-owner of Transcon Environmental, Everett Bassett.  Mr. Bassett will present his recent findings pertaining to the mass graves near Mountain Meadows.  This is an exceptional and enlightening experience that is open to the public. The program will take place at Frontier Homestead State Park Museum, and is free to the public.

Frontier Homestead Nov 2015 065

Corn Grinding



On Saturday May 14, enjoy a free, guided tour of Old Iron Town, a late 19th Century iron mining town.  The tour will begin at Frontier Homestead State Park at 10 am and return by 1 pm. Sack lunches will be provided to all registered participants.  You must request a reservation and receive confirmation for this event.  Space is limited to 15 individuals.  Please email Samantha Kirkley to reserve a spot, including any dietary restrictions, samanthakirkley@suu.edu.  Please come with appropriate footwear, sunscreen, and water.  Limited carpooling to the site is available.

Next, on Monday May 16, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, the public can take advantage of a rare opportunity to see artifacts from local archaeological sites.  Archaeologist and Curator, Barbara Frank, will be offering tours every half hour of the SUU Archaeological Repository.  The Repository is located in Room 101-A, west basement door, ELC, SUU campus. Directional signs will be on the doors of the ELC to ensure that you arrive.  All ages welcome!

Finally, on Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 pm at the Cedar City Public Library, archaeologist Barbara Frank will facilitate a book discussion of A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman. Fifteen copies of this book are available at the circulation desk. This is also a great opportunity to see the Archaeology Month display inside and take time to enjoy the Rock Art out front!

According to Samantha Kirkley, State Coordinator for Project Archaeology, “Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month, a Division of State History program, is an annual celebration of Utah’s archaeological and historic resources. With so many wonderful archaeological sites in Southern Utah, we really have something to celebrate and enjoy.  Archaeology Month offers opportunities for all ages to participate in activities that promote cultural understanding and respect, and stewardship of these special places.”