Fremont culture

The Fremont culture developed in what is now Utah (mainly north of the Colorado River), as well as in adjacent western parts of Colorado, eastern Nevada, and southern parts of Idaho and Wyoming; in other words the territory that was inhabited by the Fremont communities is located within two great geographic areas, the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin. To the south and east, the Fremont culture was bordered by the agricultural Pueblo and the local Patayan (Hakataya) culture, as well as hunting-gatherer communities from the Great Basin to the west and the Great Plains to the northeast. The culture was developing between 1/100 and 1300/1400 AD.

The elements that connect various Fremont groups include, first of all, certain types of baskets and other containers woven from plant shoots and fibres, with the use of relatively simple weaves, unpainted grey ceramics—though decorated and painted in the Pueblo and Mogollon style by some groups in certain periods—as well as some types of arrowheads, large metate stones for grinding corn into flour and seeds and grains of other plants, leather moccasins (as opposed to the sandals woven from plant fibres worn by the Pueblo people), richly decorated figurines from unfired clay, along with paintings and petroglyphs, i.e. rock art.

Agriculture was only practiced by Fremont people on a larger scale from about 500 A.D., but while some groups were based on this type of economy, others were still hunting and gathering, and agriculture dawned very slowly upon this world of hunters and gatherers. Typical Fremont settlements consisted of several or a dozen pit-structures, built in a circular plan or similar to a square or rectangle. The walls of such houses were constructed with wooden beams, then filled with wickerwork and brushes and covered with clay, while the roof was usually supported by four poles. From around 900 A.D., aboveground stone, adobe, and so-called jacal construction prevailed (a structure made of thin beams or branches and covered with clay and mud), often in the form of several rooms adjacent to each other divided by walls; this is somewhat reminiscent of Pueblo settlements.

An important group of Fremont artifacts are anthropomorphic figures made of unfired clay and richly decorated with artistic elements and painting. Both the methods of depicting the figurines and their body decorations bear close comparison with depictions in Fremont rock art. They are still unique when it comes to three-dimensional art in the Southwest. Fremont figurines have been found for example at sites located in Nine Mile Canyon as well as at other sites in Utah, but the most spectacular find is the so-called Pilling collection from the Range Creek Canyon. The figurines clearly occurred more in the eastern than the western part of Fremont territory.

As for Fremont rock art, some researchers think that it derives from the earlier (probably Archaic) style of Barrier Canyon, but there are even more similarities between some Fremont rock art and the San Juan Basketmaker II and III style of the Ancestral Pueblo culture (at least in some areas). Fremont rock art is primarily represented by petroglyphs, although there are also paintings. Representations of anthropomorphic figures (figures 8.5 and 8.6) and animals prevail, including single figures and groups of people as well as hunting scenes. Several local variants have been distinguished, which correlates, among others, with various local Fremont groups, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Often, rock art panels were located at relatively high altitudes, like the Fremont settlements, even about 2,000-3,000 meters above sea level, but they are also found in higher places. Depictions of animal or trapezoidal anthropomorphs prevails; the latter ones with extensive head ornaments (plumes, horns, caps, individual feathers, etc.), sometimes mask-like heads and ornaments of the upper body, mainly necklaces, bracelets and head ornaments on faces, often painted or with engraved dots and lines. As for the images of animals in Fremont rock art, the following species prevail (in their order of occurrence): mountain sheep, deer/elk, bison, and birds, less frequently snakes and insects too; sometimes parts of animals were also symbolically represented, like stylized and bear or badger paws (possibly representing particular clans or other meanings).

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