This archived article was written by: staff
College of Eastern Utah’s Prehistoric Museum’s newest exhibit features the Pectol-Lee Collection of artifacts found during the first decades of the 20th century in the area of Capitol Reef National Monument. The exhibit is on loan to the museum for the next three years and will be displayed in the Hall of Archaeology.
The exhibit’s open house is February 24th at 7 p.m. at the museum with Neal Busk, a grandson of E.P. Pectol, giving a short presentation on the history of the collection and some of the problems associated with possessing a collection such as this one.
Called relic hunters, E.P. Pectol and Charles William Lee canvassed the remote areas of central Utah in pursuit of antiquities. “They were drawn by the sense of mystery and intrigue about the past,” wrote Shane A. Baker in the book “Relics Revisited”. “They collected
primarily out of the
same innate curiosity regarding history that many people share and with an eye towards making ancient relics available for others to enjoy.”
National laws had been passed in 1906 protecting antiquities on public lands, but according to Baker, little stigma was attached to these generally well-intentioned early excavation and collecting practices carried out by private individuals on private land. It would take several more decades for Americans to realize how fragile and irreplaceable our national archaeological resources are and that they are best left preserved for future generations and studied only under carefully controlled scientific constraints.
The early explorers left behind as their greatest legacy collections of priceless and unique prehistoric artifacts that provide a glimpse into the lifeways of long-vanished civilizations, Baker wrote. Although the archeological interpretation of these materials is often severely hampered by the lack of information about contexts, associations and provenience, the objects can still provide insight into history.
The Pectol-Lee collection was first displayed for
many years at Capitol Reef National Park. Because the artifacts were privately held, they were not studied in the light of modern scientific methods and theories until recently. Most recently, the collection was radiocarbon dated and scientifically analyzed to shed new light on the collection and its significance in telling the history of people living in south central Utah.
By 1999, the collection was loaned to the Museum of Peoples and Cultures at Brigham Young University and on display for three years. According to Baker, the generosity of the Pectol Family Organization made the collection available for both exhibition and study. This arrangement has allowed for the first intensive scientific examination and publication of the collection in its entirety.
The collection is an assemblage of Fremont, Anasazi and late Prehistoric artifacts amassed primarily by Pectol and Lee. It consists of about 220 objects. Although the collection may have been larger, according to historians, it is intriguing as well as a complicated story involving movement of objects from Pectol’s and Lee’s simple “museums” in Torrey to locations as far flung as the National Park Service Conservation Center in Harper’s Ferry, West Vir., and the Temple Square Museum in Salt Lake City. Most believe that Pectol was interested in promoting the economic interests of the local area by calling attention to its geological and archaeological wonders. He saw tourism as a way for the local people to derive some economic benefits from their proximity to the outstanding natural and historic resources of the Capital Reef area. The Pectol Family Organization is to be commended for keeping the collection in good condition and offering to share it with the public through museum exhibits.
“Some of the most exquisite artifacts ever to have been found in Utah are in this collection. I hope everyone will come to see the stunning miniature figurine cradle board and the deer-face mask. The baskets alone comprise one of the unique collections of form and design in basketry.
“Brigham Young University graduate students did a marvelous job of researching the collection and finding comparative material for interpretation,” Miller added. Several CEU students including Carrie Miller, Tiffani Baker and Latasha Young, helped with CEU’s installation of the exhibit.
Miller is particularly pleased to have this collection on loan to the CEU Prehistoric Museum. “Because of my years of experience in studying Native American baskets, cordage, and other perishable materials, I was a peer reviewer for the exhibit catalog articles and all the catalog entries describing perishable materials.”