The site, known as “North Creek Shelter,” is located in Utah’s Escalante Valley and is almost 10,000 years old. It is the oldest known site in Southern Utah to be inhabited by humans.
Joel Janetski, a retired professor of anthropology, led the excavation with a group of students. Janetski’s group earned a National Science Foundation grant to explore and uncover the North Creek Shelter.
According to a BYU news release, Janetski’s most fascinating find was discovering what ancient locals ate. They found these inhabitants ground sagebrush seeds and grasses into a flour, which was what they primarily used in their cooking.
“We were totally surprised by what we found,” he said. “Ten thousand years ago, there was a change in the technology with grinding stones appearing for the first time. People started to use these tools to process small seeds into flour.”
Along with the team of archaeologists, BYU geologists also lent a hand to the research.
BYU geology professor Thomas Morris contributed to research on the excavation. Morris and his team of geologists studied the site to find out what buried it.
“We were able to determine how sediment accumulated and buried the artifacts over time,” he said.
Morris, a sedimentologist and petroleum geologist, used what he called “grain size analysis” to tell the process by which sediment was deposited.
“We concluded that a lot of the material that buried the shelter was carried over cliffs that hang over the shelter by occurrences such as rain, flash floods and snow melt,” he said.
Tanner Hicks, a graduate student from the Virgin Islands, was one of the BYU geologists who was part of the shelter study.
He said it was interesting to see the layers of the pit which showed evidence of animals and humans.
“We looked for artifacts, used dating processes and looked for disturbances in the walls of the pit to determine many of our findings,” Hicks said.
According to Y News, the site is one of only three archaeological sites in Utah that are dated so far back.
The ancient shelter is also located on the same property as the Slot Canyons Inn. The motel now has a small exhibit containing information about BYU researchers’ findings.
“It is a significant site and hopefully we made a contribution,” Morris said.