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Why is it that the ancient past fascinates us so much? Whatever the reason, people have tried to get their minds-and sometimes their hands-around Utah's prehistory for a long time. In 1776, Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante mentioned seeing ruins in the Uinta Basin. In 1849, Robert Campbell described in detail "some characters engraved on stone, plain, visible representation of a man, something on his head not unlike a bird with wings, one hand behind him with fingers . . .. "

Two years later, Brigham Young expressed his own fascination with ruins near Paragonah, "where we found quantities of broken, burnt, painted earthenware, arrow points, adobes, burnt brick, a crucible, some corn grains, charred cobs, animal bones and flint stones of various colors. The ruins were scattered over a space about 2-miles long and 1-mile wide. The buildings were about 120 in number, and were composed apparently of dirt lodges; the earthen roofs having been supported by timbers, which had decayed or been burned, and had fallen in, the remains thus forming mounds of an oval shape and sunken at the tip. One of the structures appeared to have been a temple or council hall, and covered about an acre of ground."

During the late 1800s, Americans' interest in antiquities grew until it mushroomed into a frenzy of artifact collecting-without the science-by museums, dealers, universities, collectors, cowboys, tourists, you name it. So appalling was the damage to archaeological sites that Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, making it illegal to collect artifacts of any kind from federal lands. (That's right-a lot of people don't realize that artifact collecting has been illegal for 100 years.)

That same year, 1906, the Deseret Farmer and several local newspapers printed a letter by Amasa Potter that both illustrated and fueled the public's fascination with vanished cultures. Potter said that in 1870 he dug into a mound on his Payson farm and found a large building with five rooms, one containing a six-foot-tall skeleton.

"At the head of those skeletons I found many articles of ancient work and among other things was a stone box containing a small quantity of wheat." Most of the wheat was dust, but since a few grains "seemed bright," he took them home, planted them, and grew "a new kind of wheat." The next spring he grew a bushel and a half.

OK, let's have a reality check. During the 1870s, Edward Palmer, a collector hired by the Smithsonian Institution, investigated the skeletons-and-wheat story but could not confirm it. Yes, Potter could have found a Fremont structure that had been covered with earth, and possibly a six-foot skeleton. And maybe he could have found some viable seeds. But wheat? There is no archaeological evidence of wheat in the prehistoric Americas.

However Potter got the wheat, he "sent samples all over Utah County, and it proved to be the best dry land wheat that they had ever tried." The 1906 newspaper articles noted that this "Kofod" wheat, as it was called, was a superior wheat, a good resister of drought and frost.

In 1911, the Utah Experiment Station reported that farmers around Nephi "greatly favor" Kofod. Was it popular because of its supposed extraordinary origin? Very possibly because the Experiment Station tests at Nephi showed that Turkey Red wheat actually gave much greater yields of a much higher grade of flour.

Over time, the exotic aura surrounding Kofod must have faded away. According to the USDA, 7,900 acres of Kofod were grown in 1919, but by 1944, the acreage had dwindled to 1,443. After that, the USDA has no record of Kofod wheat being planted.

The story of Kofod wheat is just one of many such legends. The truth is, none of these stories can hold a candle to reality - to what archaeologists are really discovering about the ancient past. If you want to be intrigued, get your mind around real Utah archaeology. But please, leave artifacts where you find them so that we can continue to learn about-and be fascinated by-the people who came before us.

(To learn more about archaeology, see and

Kristen Rogers-Iversen works at the Division of State History/State Historical Society.