Fremont Culture

The Fremont Culture is posited to have existed on the northern and northwestern frontier of the Ancestral Puebloans: north of the Virgin and Colorado Rivers to the northern shores of the Great Salt Lake. However, extensive excavation and research have revealed that the "Fremont Culture" is more of a catch-all classification for groups of small pueblos with no central societal organization between or among them. They just existed, out there, usually expressing themselves through their own technologies and practices. They were separate and distinct from the cultures that inhabited the regions around them, although not that distinct from the Kayenta people who bordered them at the Colorado River.

Map of the Fremont Culture area in Utah
The Fremont Cultural Area
Pottery production areas in color

One of the defining characteristics of the Ancestral Puebloan culture was the development and massive use of decorated pottery. Not so the Fremont. Only about five areas of central Utah in the Fremont zone produced any amount of pottery. Only two of those produced any significant amount of pottery, although their pottery was found throughout the Fremont Cultural Area (except in the Uinta Basin). As separated as those areas are by mountains and deserts, they also show evidence of regular social, technological and spiritual mixing and merging. The various Fremont areas did build above ground with stone and jacal architecture but they all oriented their structures differently from the Puebloans.

In essence, the Fremont Culture was more a complex of farming and foraging technologies and behaviors that adapted themselves to the day-to-day living conditions of the region as the people experienced them. As adaptable as the people were to the constantly changing climate conditions of their geography, every semblance of cultural similarity among settlements in the larger Fremont area fell off dramatically in the 1300s CE, and were completely gone by about 1350. The people disappeared as a distinct people, leaving empty countryside behind for the Utes to occupy as they moved east from the Sierra Nevadas in the late 1300s.

A site was found in the environs of Canyonlands National Park (in the area of the Colorado Plateau Fremont) that had a cache of Kayenta decorated pottery hidden in it. That site may have been the northernmost influence and trading post of the Kayenta people. Nothing like it has been found in any other areas that were assigned to the Fremont Culture.

The Fremont potters mostly made jars, bowls and pitchers. Only in two areas: Emery and Snake Valley, were decorations regularly painted on. There were significant variations in the designs, tempers and slips used by the potters in each locale, too. The most often painted design seems to have been of interlocking scrolls, both attached and unattached. They also liked two- and four-panel designs, upper and lower bounding bands and triangular or stepped designs in opposite corners of each panel. Rows of dots are another common Fremont design element. The potters saved their black paint for inside their bowls, hardly ever painting anything on the outside. Some jars were painted on the outside while some had a line around the opening on the inside. Most decorated pieces had black decorations on varying shades of grey and white. In the Great Salt Lake area local potters used a red paint to decorate their otherwise grey-and-white pottery. They also used that red paint in opposite manners to the way black paint was used. For instance, red paint was used on the outside of bowls and the design patterns were in opposition to those made in black. Speculation is that it was used to differentiate locally made wares from imported wares as the red paint wasn't found at any other locations.

Images showing various Fremont design patterns next to Fremont pottery exhibiting them
Various Fremont design patterns

Many of the above designs are common to potters from Chaco, Kayenta, the Mimbres Valley, the Mogollon Rim and Paquimé. Some of them can be traced further back into prehistory as variations of more ancient rock art motifs. They are still common to Hopi, Zuni, Tewa, Tiwa, Towa and Keres potters.

Map and design pattern images courtesy of Katie K. Richards, part of a potential master's thesis submission at Brigham Young University, UT, 2014.

Prehistoric Cultures