Southern Utah University entered into a unique partnership last week when plans were finalized to sell 12.48 acres of land in Paragonah, Utah to a non-profit group, The Archaeology Conservancy. But when you step onto this 543,629 square feet parcel of land surrounded by hay fields and housing developments, you step back a couple of centuries.
The Paragonah site — 25 miles north of SUU campus — plays host to one of the last remnants of a Fremont Indian archaeological site (circa 700-1300). First discovered by pioneer settlers in 1851, the land was minimally excavated between 1920-1950 and remnants of a sedentary, agriculturalist society were discovered.
In the late 1950s, the land containing the remains of the Paragonah Fremont village was donated to the Branch Agricultural College (later known as SUU) for agricultural purposes. Being a public college, the land was given to the college for one dollar and was not taxed so it went unnoticed in the books. Over time, as the focus of the University’s curriculum changed, the land intended for the agricultural school fell off the radar and was almost forgotten.
“I was completely blown away we owned this piece of land,” said James McDonald, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “In the last 40 years the site hid under everyone’s nose and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
McDonald explained that by having people unaware of the Paragonah site actually preserved the site from looters. “Now we are lucky enough to partner with the Conservancy, who can put in more time and money to continue to preserve, protect and continue the legacy of the local Native American Culture.”
He added, “We don’t have those resources to commit, but the Conservancy does.”
The Conservancy, who was intrigued by noteworthy historical significance of the site, brought the last remaining Fremont Culture site to light with the help of Brigham Young University’s Office of Public Archaeology to SUU administrators in August 2012, who were completely unaware of this hidden gem just north of campus.
The site, which is speculated to originally have had more than 400 dwellings, now holds the final 28. The site is riddled with ceramic pottery, tools, ritual objects and dwellings, all belonging to the Fremont Indians, roughly contemporaneous with the Ancestral Puebloans (formally the Anasazi Indians) and possible ancestors of the Paiute Indians.
Chaz Evans, southwest field representative for the Archaeology Conservancy, ensured that the site will be used for Native American religious ceremonies. “We want Native Americans to have access to the site so they can see who the ancestors were. We’re preserving a piece of heritage that will be around for generations, everyone wins here.”
Funds for this purchase, and two other archaeology site purchases in Utah, were given to the Conservancy by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), which allocated $300,000 to preserve Native American cultural sites in Utah. Funding was committed to this effort in the wake of the destruction of archaeological sites by UTA in the Salt Lake City area when expansion for the light rail system was done without proper archaeological mitigation and consultation.
“This started out as a negative, but has quickly turned into something beneficial for all,” stated Evans. “Through preserving Native American Cultural sites in the state of Utah we are giving American Indians a chance to connect with their ancestors, and literally walk where their forefathers did.”
The funds given to SUU through this purchase will be used as an endowment that will fund scholarships for Native American students, support undergraduate research and further develop SUU’s Archaeological Repository.
University and archaeological groups will be able to conduct minimal excavations of the Paragonah site, under the administration of the Archaeology Conservancy. Stewards will be put in place so local groups can receive guided tours of the site.
The Archaeological Conservancy is the only national non-profit organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving the best of our nation's remaining archaeological sites. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Conservancy owns 450 archaeological sites in 35 different states.