In Search of Ancient Vermonters

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The Moose River slashes around a jagged rock. Like the teeth of a saw, the ragged white-water slices a long frothy sliver of the river. Waves rise, fall, and then pound against the rock.

I see where a good sized tree has recently fallen, and I walk towards it.

Roots the size of my arm are tangled among dark clods of dirt. I poke at the earth, but it’s no use: as many times as I’ve walked to this secret place, I have yet to find even a chipped flake of flint, much less an arrowhead.

You see, my odd habit of studying ancient documents in dusty libraries, has told me that somewhere around here is the location of the oldest human site yet found in this part of Vermont.

It wasn’t much of a site, probably just a tiny encampment, used seasonally by a single family as they hunted their way up and down the River.

I stand up from the roots of the fallen tree. My eyes sweep the broad length of the steep bank. All right, I say to myself, if I were to set up a camp here, where would I put it?

At the very edge of the river is a gentle, level shelf of bedrock just the right size for a half-dozen shelters. I scramble up to the area and look around.

Only five artifacts have been found at this spot, but archeologists have dated those to a period known as the Late Archaic – four to five thousand years ago.

Back then the people native to these hills of Vermont most likely lived in family bands.

In winter several of these bands would gather together in small villages where they could share resources. Here they shared their food, told stories, gossiped and tried to survive the deep, cold season.

In spring they would move up the Connecticut River in a singe group, but every time a side river entered the main stream, a part of the group would break away. Friends would bid farewell to friends and then turn their dugout canoes up the smaller stream and paddle away. At the mouth of every stream another family group would break away from the main group and turn upstream toward their traditional hunting grounds.

At places like this tiny campsite on the banks of a river we call the Moose, the first families in ancient Vermonters spent the summer hunting, fishing and gathering food for the coming winter.

I walk around the perimeter of the level area. Near the river’s edge, I stop again.

Five thousand years.

On this level place, beneath this wind-swept snow children once laughed and played, men and women left for hunts and cooked and worked through the days of what would be their lives.

Place nearly a hundred lifetimes end-to-end to make a chain from those ancient Vermonters, to me, Alan Boye, just walking the hills of Vermont.

–Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.

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