First Peoples of Great Salt Lake

A Cultural Landscape from Nevada to Wyoming

Great Salt Lake is a celebrated, world-recognized natural landmark. It, and the broader region bound to it, is also a thoroughly cultural landscape; generations of peoples made their lives there. In an eminently readable narrative, Steven Simms, one of the foremost archaeologists of the region, traces the scope of human history dating from the Pleistocene, when First Peoples interacted with the lapping waters of Lake Bonneville, to nearly the present day. Through vivid descriptions of how people lived, migrated, and mingled, with persistence and resilience, Simms honors the long human presence on the landscape.

First Peoples of Great Salt Lake takes a different approach to understanding the ancients than is typical of archaeology. De-emphasizing categories and labels, it traces changing environments, climates, and peoples through the notion of place. It challenges the "Pristine Myth," the cultural bias that Indigenous peoples were timeless, changeless, primitive, and the landscapes they lived in sparsely populated and perpetually pristine. First Peoples and their descendants modified the forests and understory vegetation, shaped wildlife populations, and adapted to long-term climate change. Native Americans of Great Salt Lake were very much part of their world, and the story here is one of long continuity through dramatic cultural change.


Steven R. Simms is professor emeritus of anthropology at Utah State University. His books include Ancient Peoples of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau (2008), and Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah (2010) awarded the Society for American Archaeology Book Award in the public audience category and the Utah Book Award for nonfiction. He has directed over 60 archaeological projects, including the Great Salt Lake Wetlands Project 1990–93, funded by the state of Utah, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Science Foundation.

Praise and Reviews:“An incredible, publicly accessible, general readership gateway into complex worlds of geology, ecology, and archaeology, not to mention a dozen other fields that are seamlessly and uniquely folded into the narrative.”—Christopher W. Merritt, Utah State Historic Preservation Office
“A well-written, approachable, and comprehensive history of humans in the Great Basin. It relies on sound science and scholarship, but it is written in a manner that invites a general audience. There isn’t really a comparable book.”—Geoffrey M. Smith, University of Nevada, Reno