Discovering Williston’s past

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

UVM archeology student Nick White meticulously digs at a Native American site off Route 2A, while his classmates Shayna Lindquist (left) and Katie Hoadley take careful notes. (Observer photos by Stephanie Choate)

University of Vermont archeology student Nick White carefully scrapes dirt from the edge of a precisely cut hole in the ground, pausing to make sure he is pulling the soil away at the right angle.

In the grass next to his classmates lies a plastic bag filled with the group’s haul so far—shards of stone tools and a small fragment of pottery dating somewhere between 800 and 1200 A.D.

A narrow undulating line of darker soil in the pit signals a storage site. White carefully tips the collected dirt into a bin, to be later analyzed in a lab for evidence of food or other organic material that may have been stored there, many years ago.

The UVM field class spent Tuesday and Wednesday collecting the last samples from the archeological dig, located just off Route 2A near James Brown Drive.

“We’ve gotten a sizeable sample,” said John Crock, associate professor of anthropology at UVM.

The site was identified last year by the Maine-based Northeast Archeology Research Center during a study in advance of development. Archeologists from the center finished their activities last week, salvaging artifacts from 15 one-square-meter holes.

The artifacts are from a relatively recent period in Vermont’s history, the late woodland period.

Long before a steady stream of cars zoomed down the road, the spot was a small base camp for Native Americans. NE ARC President Ellen Cowie said the site was not a village, but there is evidence of fire hearths and stone tool carving. A small group was likely there for at least a couple of weeks, though she said it’s too early to tell much more than that.

Though people living in Vermont at that time were not nomads, they moved with the seasons to get different resources, such as food and stone for tools.

Archeologists will analyze the data over the next several months, and Crock and Cowie said they hope to learn more about who lived there, when, for how long and what they did while they were there. Once the artifacts are carbon dated, Cowie said archeologists should be able to pin down the date to within 40 or 50 years.

Crock and Cowie both expressed thanks to the landowner, Aaron Vincelette, whom Cowie said has “generously given what he could to the project.”

Though development will destroy the site, Cowie said the dig has been a success from the archeologists’ perspective, and they have been able to collect enough material from the core area of the site.

“We’ve gotten a good sample,” Cowie said. “We will be able to better understand what was happening there and have a better idea of Native American settlement in the area and right in that spot.”