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Earth Notes: Fremont Culture

Human-shaped petroglyphs visible from the boardwalks along Utah Highway 24. These images were created by the Fremont Culture, who lived in this region for about 1000 years.
NPS/Chris Roundtree
Human-shaped petroglyphs visible from the boardwalks along Utah Highway 24. These images were created by the Fremont Culture, who lived in this region for about 1000 years.

The culture known as the “Fremont” flourished for over a thousand years between 300 and 1400 A.D. Named for the Fremont River in south-central Utah, the Fremont occupied a region extending from the Great Salt Lake in the north, south into the red rock canyon country of the Four Corners area. The Fremont were ancient pueblo farmers of corn, beans and squash, as well as expert hunters and gatherers. By 1000 A.D. they had developed a highly sophisticated culture among the lush river valleys and forested canyons of their homeland.

The Fremont were also skilled artists, and perhaps their best-known expression is the enigmatic rock art they left carved, pecked and painted on sandstone canyon walls. These images often depicted imposing, life-sized human figures with broad, triangular shoulders, wearing elaborate horned or feathered headdresses, their bodies detailed with adornments of jewelry and clothing.

In the late 1300s, Fremont culture underwent a shift as drought and social change forced them to adapt to new ways of life. While some of the Fremont remained in place, becoming part of later Paiute, Shoshone and Ute tribal groups, the majority of the Fremont are believed to have moved south, joining relatives among the pueblos of Hopi and Acoma and along the Rio Grande River. In their new homes, they contributed skills and ceremonies that reflected their former homelands, becoming part of the enduring Pueblo world that has existed since Time Immemorial.

This Earth Note was written by Lyle Balenquah and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Lyle Balenquah, Hopi, is a member of the Greasewood Clan from the Village of Paaqavi ("Reed Springs Place") on Third Mesa, located in northeastern Arizona. He currently works as an archaeologist, as well as a river and hiking guide across the Four Corners region. Through his work he advocates for the protection and preservation of ancestral landscapes, combining his professional training with personal experiences and insights about Hopi culture and history.
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