Remains of an ancient Indian structure and artifacts recently discovered on private land in the Moab area are from 900-1300 A.D., said Julie Howard, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist.
Howard said the find could be either Fremont or Anasazi and is the first documented site of an Indian community in the area from that period.The Fremont culture disappeared about 1200 A.D. The Anasazi are believed to have abandoned the Four Corners region around 1300 A.D., Howard said.
"My gut feeling is, it's Anasazi. It would be significant either way," she said Thursday.
Archaeologists and volunteers have dug at the site three days and have found a semicircular pithouse about 13 feet in diameter 3 feet below the surface.
The structure had burned roof beams collapsed in on the floor, which commonly suggests deliberate abandonment by the inhabitants, Howard said.
How extensive the find is remains to be seen. After the dig, soil and charcoal samples will be analyzed along with plant and organic matter and artifacts.
Findings include plain and corrugated gray pottery, grinding implements and stone tools and projectile points.
"We're coming into a central fire hearth now," Howard said. "As we keep finding out more information, it's like reading a book. You're not to the end yet, so you have a lot more to cover. We have a lot of questions to answer about this area."
The site is beyond the confluence of Pack and Mill creeks.
A lot of people in Moab have said they found burial artifacts and other evidence of early Indian cultures buried in their back yards. Archaeologists know the area is probably rich in buried sites and cultural artifacts, Howard said.
"But we've never known specifics - what they ate, if they were hunters and gatherers also. We've never professionally excavated anything before; it was all on hearsay. So I think it's real exciting," she said.
News of the finds earlier this week generated a lot of interest, plus reports of vandalism.
"Mostly there are broken potsherds and flakes from toolmaking. Overall, people are not going to find any treasure. Nothing is very valuable," Howard said.
The dig is expected to take at least a month. After that, the site will make way for a city sidewalk project that led to the find.
Construction worker Kent Dalton, a member of the Moab Archaeological Society, told the BLM about the site about a month ago after noticing remnants of artifacts and arrowheads on property that was being prepared for a concrete retaining wall.
Workers were making backhoe cuts along the orchard and Dalton noticed an outline of a pithouse in the profile, Howard said. Otherwise, it would have been lost.
About half the structure was lost in the cut.
The city delayed the project to allow archaeologists to salvage the artifacts. Excavation began Nov. 2 and will continue mostly during weekends to use volunteers, Howard said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will decide what to do with artifacts, as the find is on the church's orchard property, Howard said.