This Place in History: Native Americans in the Champlain Valley


At 'This Place in History' Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins takes us to Chimney Point in Addison County to explore "one of the most important areas for human habitation in the whole Champlain Valley."

State Archaeologist Jess Robinson met us at the Chimney Point State Historic Site to tell us about some of the earliest residents of what is now Vermont.

"The point part of Chimney Point is really important because it was a strategic location for thousands of years; in fact, probably 9,000 years or more for Native Americans to traverse across the lake as a strategic location to catch fish, waterfowl and other important food resources. It was also a place to land and find shelter from the winds. We see evidence of that in the archaeological record here. We have found remarkable evidence of human habitations here spanning the pre-contact and the historic record. But today, we're going focus on the native record," introduced Robinson.

"Chimney Point was a very strategic stopping place. We have found through materials that been recovered that this was probably a locus of trade and exchange among neighboring groups and bands. Lithic or stone materials from far-flung locales, possibly even up the Labrador, but certainly the Hudson Valley, western New York, and Pennsylvania making their way here."

"The earliest spear point that we have found here at the bridge was very fragmentary, but we as archaeologists could determine it dated to a period we call the early Archaic Period beginning about 9,000 years ago and spanning to about 7,500 years ago. The actual projectile point is getting ready for an exhibit right now," said Robinson.

"So the next oldest full documented spear point that we have here dates to about 6,000-5,000 years ago. It's referred to as an Otter Creek-type spear point, very robust, was hafted to a spear. This was long before bow and arrow technology was invented."

"They would have hunted moose; deer becomes extremely important after the Paleo-Indian period or into the Archaic period. There are scattered indications that they were in Vermont as least in this early time period. And then a variety of smaller mammals. You know, one of those things we're still debating as archaeologists is would these have been effective for things like waterfowl or smaller creatures? Or would they have had a different technology? It isn't as observable in the archaeological record. And that's one of he things that we are getting at because we know they ate those things. But how they actually got them onto the plate is a question we're still asking," explained Robinson.

"Now, you do that in real life right here at Chimney Point, an atlatl throwing competition?"

"Yes, prior to the introduction of the bow and arrow, Native Americans used spears. But they didn't just hand throw a spear, which if you've ever tried, even the best javelin thrower would probably have had a tough time killing a moose at distance with their handheld spear. Instead, they would have used what's called a spear thrower. It was essentially an extra extension on the back of the spear that went into a little hole in the back of the spear. It was a lever that when you threw, increased the spear throwing velocity by about tenfold.

At 'This Place in History'!

For more from our 'This Place in History' series, click here.

For a map of Vermont's roadside historic markers, click here.


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