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Attorney Noel Morss
Discovery and Documentation 1928

The front sides of the Capitol Reef Wandering Boulder were first documented in 1928 by amateur archaeologist Noel Morss. The boulder, along with its markings and setting, were an important part of the many artifacts, petroglyphs and other material that Morss relied upon in becoming "the scholar who defined the Fremont Culture of Eastern Utah." Morss was the person responsible for documenting and reporting a new culture: The Fremont.

In his report, which was published in 1932, Morss says of the boulder: "On the eastern face was a large and well made spiral, from which an unbroken line went through complicated evolutions on the southern and western faces, finally running up over the top."

Photo of the boulder described by amateur archaeologist Noel Morss.
Markings on the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef. Source: [TO BE REVEALED]

Amateur Archaeologist

Morss was born in Boston in 1904 and began a long association with archaeology as an undergraduate at Harvard. In 1923 through 1924, and again in 1925, he was a member of Harvard Peabody Museum expeditions to Northeastern Arizona, just South of the Utah border. He again visited Northeastern Arizona in 1927, a year after receiving a degree in Economics and after beginning graduate studies in Anthropology.

In 1928 and 1929, Morss was a leader of the Peabody Museum expeditions to Utah, which were sponsored by Raymond Emerson and William Claflin. It was in 1928 that Morss discovered and documented the Capitol Reef Wandering Boulder with its interesting markings. He says in his report, "On the hill back of Chestnut's ranch we came across a very elaborate specimen of black boulder design covering three sides of a rock 5 feet high."

Amateur archaeologist Noel Morss and his assistant beside the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef in 1928.

Noel Morss and assistant with the Capitol Reef "Wandering Boulder" in 1928. Source: [TO BE REVEALED]

Morss made two photographs of the boulder: one, a portrait of the boulder, along with himself and an assistant; the other, a close-up of the large spiral on the eastern face of the boulder. Interestingly, he failed to note or photograph the pioneer graffiti and the cross on the back side of the boulder.

Photo of the Wandering Boulder's large spiral and the boot of Noel Morss's assistant.

Closeup of Large Spiral on Eastern Face of Wandering Boulder. Source: [TO BE REVEALED]

Morss explored numerous sites, including Fish Creek Cove, with its outstanding pictographs of "headless elk," located South of Torrey.

Professional Attorney

All along, Morss was taking courses at the Harvard Law School, and he received a law degree in 1929. He went into the practice of law and never finished an advanced degree in Anthropology, although he devoted much of his avocational time and talents to archaeology.

In 1931, he published his landmark report defining the Fremont Culture, which is useful to today's professional archeologists.

In 1955, he published a paper on the Fremont Culture clay dolls knows as the "Pilling Figurines," which was highly regarded by his professional colleagues.

Photo of the Pilling Figurines from Range Creek, Utah.

The Pilling Figurines from Range Creek, Utah. Source: Amy Brooks

Return to Capitol Reef

When Noel Morss returned to Utah in 1966, he re-visited the diggings at Fish Creek Cove, staying at a ranch just outside the cove with a friend of his: Richard Sprang, another amateur archeologist. Sprang, along with his wife Elizabeth, had been evicted from their home in Fruita (formerly the site of Chestnut's ranch) by the National Park Service in 1961. But before that time, they removed from their holdings the very same boulder that Morss discovered back in 1928: the Wandering Boulder of Capitol Reef, with its spirals and complicated lines. Morss was delighted to find that the boulder found a new home in the Sprang's carport, along with several other boulders that the Sprangs had collected over the years.

Noel Morss was...

Amateur Archaeologist extraordinaire.
Explorer of the Chinle Valley.
Leader of explorations to Utah.
Attorney of impeccable character.
Writer of valueable archeological studies.
Discoverer of the Capitol Reef Wandering Boulder.
Dedicated Husband and father.

While Morss was never officially a "professional" archaeologist, his work earned him appointments as Chairman on the Visiting Committee, Harvard University Department of Anthropology and the Peabody Museum. He was also a Research Fellow in Prehistory of the American Southwest.

Morss was a founding member of the Council on Old World Archaeology (COWA). He served as Secretary and Treasurer of the American School for Prehistoric Research (ASPR) until 1980. Noel Morss died in 1981.

Footnotes

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References

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