July 13, 2024

Museum archeologist passionate about past

Renee Barlow loves to mountain bike, hike and take photographs in the Price area, but what she loves best about this area are what civilizations left behind thousands of years ago.  Barlow, the new archeologist at College of Eastern Utah’s Prehistoric Museum, led a crew into Range Creek, in Emery County, and documented over 380 archeological sites, and has been working there for the past seven years.

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This archived article was written by: Kellie Henderson

Renee Barlow loves to mountain bike, hike and take photographs in the Price area, but what she loves best about this area are what civilizations left behind thousands of years ago.  Barlow, the new archeologist at College of Eastern Utah’s Prehistoric Museum, led a crew into Range Creek, in Emery County, and documented over 380 archeological sites, and has been working there for the past seven years.
Barlow first visited this area as a graduate student at the University of Utah, where she led an excavation of an area just outside Price.  “When we did that excavation we had radiocarbon dates going back 9,000 years and we had eight different layers of cultural material and we covered 120 projectile points and more than 10,00 lithic artifacts spanning the whole archaic period.”  
In 2002, Barlow began working with Range Creek.  This site is of archeological importance for several reasons.  The projectile points, or darts or sharpened stones generally used for hunting or warfare, were still in tact at the site, which can aid in identifying the time period of the site depending on the design of the point, and also can determine whether the inhabitants traded or fought with neighboring tribes.  Barlow is fascinated by the Range Creek site for other reasons as well, “There are a lot of places that are just as rich [in artifacts], but probably not as many that haven’t been documented and well preserved as Range Creek.  This may be one of the last places like that, and again that’s also because of the Wilcox family … taking care of it for this many years, because it’s private property, which resulted in kind of an unusual degree of preservation and an unusual number of opportunities for us to record things that haven’t been discovered yet.”
 Barlow also conducts a field school for CEU that gives students a hands-on look at the field of archeology.   Barlow explains, “They sign up for the course, we’ve got one coming up this summer for CEU, and we’ll start here at the museum and we’ll talk and the we’ll go out and they will have to set up a tent and live out in the field.   This one will only be for three weeks … ” Some sites must be rappelled into from above, and the students spend the day examining different types of artifacts, “Each individual is responsible for working and taking their own notes and then contributing to the project notes as well … every student takes a turn as being the one with camera and doing the photography for the day … Everyone keeps track of their own excavation unit and what they’re finding, and that evening they actually have to wash and catalog their artifacts and they have to go through and log them in and talk about them and photograph them as well. So they’re involved in every part of the process.”
Discovering evidence of prehistoric communities is often slow work, and frequently days go by without discovery.  However, when a site is identified it’s very rewarding, “When you find sites it’s kind of a thrill.  Even after 27 years of doing that in Utah I still find it thrilling.”
 Not only is Barlow passionate about anthropology and archeology, but she enjoys imparting her enthusiasm to others, “When students first see [a site] they get really excited and they start seeing it all the time … .it usually takes them a while to see one, and so part of what I’m doing is teaching them how to see artifacts, how to see differences in the landscapes that indicate that there might have been prehistoric activity.”
The work of an archeologist, however, is not always as fruitful as Range Creek.  Often months, even years of research precede visiting a site.  Sometimes Barlow’s job includes excavation, the process of recording a site, and other times her job is a little different, “If I’m doing a project for a company, for example, what’s called ‘mitigate’ if there’s a road being built or a pipeline … I go out into the field for the initial research, [then] actually walk the corridor and look for sites.”  In this case, the archeologist would be in charge of minimizing the impact of construction on any archeological sites.  
While working at Range Creek, Barlow also has goals for other parts of the area, “I’d like to work some in 9 Mile Canyon … .  I would love to work on a Paleo-Indian site.  I think it would be interesting also to work with some of the tribes and see what some of their interests are, and hopefully work more closely with Native Americans and maybe work with some of the Native American archeologists.”
Barlow has loved the study of ancient people for as long as she can remember, “My mom says I decided on archeology when I was three, she says that I was just always interested in it.  I always studied it, from the time I can remember, and always did research reports from the time I was a little kid, and I can never remember not being interested in archeology and anthropology.”  A smile crosses her face as she recalls one of her most prominent memories, “I got a Reader’s Digest that had a pull-out section of the finding of Lucy in Africa and it was one of the most exciting days of my life.  I still have that pull-out somewhere, so I guess I was still a kid when I got that too.”