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Desert Archaic Culture

archaic life

New ways of living

ancient handprints

Handprints left behind thousands of years ago by people of the Archaic culture.

Around 6500 B.C., whether new people moved in or the culture just changed, a new culture appeared in the archaeological record. Scientists call this the Archaic Culture.

By then, the climate was warmer and drier—much like it is today. People had developed new strategies for living.

What was life like?

The Archaic people moved around to different areas to gather foods at different times of the year. For shelter, they used brush shelters and caves. Danger Cave, Cowboy Cave, and Hogup Cave all have evidence of Archaic use. If a family group wanted to stay put for a while, they might stay put in pithouses they had built.

They also made and used new technologies.  For example, they made a variety of smaller, fluted spear points. They used a spear-thrower called an atlatl to help them throw spears faster, more powerfully, and more accurately.

Toward the end of this period, hunters began using the bow and arrow for hunting, which was even more effective.

The Archaic people also gathered plant foods, using baskets they made. They ground wild seeds using a mano and metate. (Mano= a grinding stone. Metate=the grinding platform).

What did they leave behind?

paintings of figures on sandstone

These Archaic rock art figures (found in Range Creek) are called Barrier Canyon Style pictographs.

Basically, the Archaic people knew very well how to survive. Archaeologists have found Archaic sites all over the state, in every kind of environmental condition, from high mountain areas to the West Desert salt flats. These people knew how to get food and thrive wherever they were.

Archaeologists have found baskets, grinding stones, and nets for catching fish and rabbits. At Hogup Cave, near the Great Salt Lake, they have found the remains of deer, antelope, mountain sheep, and elk, 32 species of small mammals, 34 species of birds, and 36 different kinds of plants.  Obviously, these people had a varied diet.

Archaic people also left behind split-twig figurines (little deer or sheep made out of twigs) and ghostly pictographs (rock art). These may be clues into the complexity of their culture and religion.

Do any cultures in the world today have similar kinds of lives?

Play a game to test what you know about Archaic technology.