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PaleoIndians: The Very First People in Utah

a drawing of PaleoIndian life

12,000 years ago, the Ice Age was coming to an end.

Utah’s climate was cooler. And wetter.

Places like Nephi, Cedar City, Beaver, Price, and Vernal looked very different. Instead of sagebrush, pinyon, and juniper, spruce and fir trees grew in cool, damp forests.

Into this cool, wet climate came Utah’s first people.

a hunterArchaeologists call these people PaleoIndians. 

We don't know what they called themselves! We use the name PaleoIndians just for convenience ("paleo" means "early" or "ancient"). Basically, they were people. They lived differently than we do, but they had the same needs.

What needs do you and PaleoIndians have in common?

This ancient culture lasted until about 6500 B.C.  By then, the climate had become much warmer and drier, and spruce and fir trees only grew in the mountains.

What was life like?

These people often lived near marshes and lakes. They traveled in small family groups--perhaps including grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins--finding plants and animals for food, tools, clothing, and shelter. Like people today, they often had dogs with them, because people had domesticated dogs by then.

(Read about ancient dogs!)

spear pointThese earliest people found protection in caves or shelters made of brush. Danger Cave, near Wendover, is a world-famous site where they lived, played, worked, and died.

For hunting and fishing, the people used spears and nets. Sometimes they killed large man making a spearmammals that are now extinct--mammoths, or camels, bison, or other animals.

The people also gathered plants to eat, like cattails, roots, and berries.

How is life different today?

What did they leave behind?

So--how do archaeologists know all this stuff? They excavate and investigate PaleoIndian sites. Learn more about archaeology.

But archaeologists don’t know a lot, because these ancient PaleoIndian sites are rare. The old campsites may be deeply buried or destroyed by nature or humans, so the best sites this old are found in caves. Archaeologists have found large spear points, stone knife blades, fire pits, and seed-grinding stones from this period.

By studying Paleo-Indian sites, archaeologists have learned that Paleo-Indians traded goods at least as far as New Mexico, where obsidian from Utah has been found. (Obsidian is used to make spear points and other tools.)

Learn more about PaleoIndians.

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