By Giovanna Peebles
As a smart and engaged group of kids from Williamstown High School recently learned, archaeologists study people, not dinosaurs. The people are long gone, but clues to their lives remain in the ground.
To learn about past people, archaeologists study archaeological sites. Sites hold fragile clues of people’s lives, whether 13,000 years ago, or 100 years ago. Vermont’s Native American sites contain artifacts and cultural deposits, such as fire hearths, house floors, and garbage pits. These, in turn, contain charcoal for dating and all kinds of plant and animal remains so we can learn what people ate, the time of year they lived at the site, and the type of environment around the site.
Vermont has a vast array of Euro-American sites dating from the early 18th century on: military encampments, residential sites, many different industrial sites from mills to mines, schools, and many other types. These historic period sites hold the clues to people’s lives and to chapters of Vermont history that were poorly recorded, or not written about at all.
In the more than three decades that I have been Vermont State Archaeologist, we have uncovered extraordinary and unexpected information about Vermont’s long and rich history. To get the word out, we launched Vermont Archaeology Month many years ago. Always in September, Archaeology Month is THE time for Vermonters and visitors of all ages to dive into Vermont’s 13,000 years of history.
It’s more than just digging! Learn about archaeology, Vermont’s Native communities and traditions, nature and the environment, and much more at more than 40 interactive and educational events. Organized walks and talks, hands-on explorations, presentations and panels are available nearly every day.
If you’ve never visited some of these amazing places, Vermont Archaeology Month events provide a great excuse to visit the most pristine Revolutionary site in America, Mount Independence (in Orwell), the new Vermont Archaeology Heritage Center (in Barre), the Calvin Coolidge Homestead (in Plymouth Notch), the Missisquoi Delta in Swanton, Waterford, or Rochester (nestled deep in the Green Mountains). Take advantage of some unique experiences. Find a complete listing of all the many events in the Vermont Archaeology Month Calendar of Events at heritage.vermont.gov.
Here are just a few highlights that are coming right up here in central Vermont:
• Every Tuesday & Thursday in September, starting September 3, bring a bag lunch to the Vermont History Center in Barre and join us for informal conversations with various archaeologists via our program “So You Always Wanted to be an Archaeologist But Life Got In The Way: Stories from the Trenches.” Then stay for the Open House to explore the new Vermont Archaeology Heritage Center’s archaeology collections.
• There’s a strong thread between the past and present day, which you can explore on Saturday, September 7 at the Vermont History Center in Barre. “People and Pottery: An Ancient and Intimate Relationship” features well-known Starksboro potter Robert Compton and experimental archaeologist Charlie Paquin talking about the 3,000-year-old, intimate relationship between people and pottery.
• On Sunday, September 8, also at the Vermont History Center in Barre, join us for “First Women’s Voices: Native American Women Speak About Their Experiences As First Women of Vermont.” Five Native American women speak about their experiences as “First Women” of Vermont, telling stories of their lives, the traditions they grew up in, and their varied experiences.
There are more great events coming up later in September, including “Lost and Re-found: Remembering the Long-Forgotten Patients at the Cemetery of the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane,” on Saturday, September 14.
I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks about recent discoveries in Vermont archeology. Keep your eye on the Calendar for details!
Finally, we couldn’t get the word out during Vermont Archaeology Month without these generous sponsors: the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, the Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, VSECU, The National Life Group, the Montpelier Heritage Group, Mimi Baird, and the many generous program hosts and presenters.
Giovanna Peebles serves as Vermont’s long-time State Archaeologist in the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, National Life Building, Montpelier. She can be reached at email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call (802) 828-3050.