Public Release: 

Archaeological find provides insight into northeast 9,000 years ago

Planned highway project yields archaeological finds

University of Vermont

University of Vermont archaeologists have identified what is unequivocally the first Late Paleoindian site (10,000-9,000 B.P.) in the state--and one of very few known to exist in the eastern United States--near Sunderland Brook in Colchester. The site was discovered last week during an archaeological investigation of property that will be impacted by the construction of an off-ramp for the proposed Chittenden County Circumferential Highway.

Preliminary analysis suggests the site was a hunting camp where Native Americans removed and replaced spear points broken during hunts. Other tools recovered suggest that animals may have been butchered and their hides prepared at the site, according to John G. Crock, director of UVM's Consulting Archaeology Program and research assistant professor of anthropology.

"The general lack of Late Paleoindian sites once caused archaeologists to hypothesize that people left what is now Vermont for roughly 1,000 years between the end of the Early Paleoindian Period [10,000 B.P.] and the beginning of the Early Archaic period [9,000-7,500 B.P.]," Crock explained.

But recovered at the Colchester site (christened the Mazza site, after landowner Sam Mazza) were fragments of several parallel-flaked spear point bases known as Agate Basin points. These were used during the Late Paleoindian period--not only by inhabitants of Vermont and the broader Northeast where this period is poorly understood, but by people who roamed areas from the High Plains to the Mississippi Valley and beyond. In fact, the points were named by archaeologists after the site of a bison kill in Wyoming.

"The Mazza site and its artifacts indicate not only that people were in Vermont during this period, but also that they shared unifying cultural traits with other groups across North America," Crock said.

Much of the stone material recovered in Colchester came from Mount Jasper in what is now Berlin, N.H. This suggests trade or direct travel across the Green Mountains and White Mountains, probably over a route not too different from what is now U.S. Route 2, Crock said. The Mazza site is located next to a tributary of Sunderland Brook, which in turn flows into the Winooski River, which enters Lake Champlain south of Colchester point.

"Native Americans used drainages like this one as natural travel corridors and because they contained concentrations of useful plants and animals," Crock said.

Artifacts and other materials from the Mazza site will be processed and analyzed at UVM's archaeology laboratory. Most of the site has been salvaged, Crock noted, but remaining portions are likely to be destroyed when the Circumferential Highway is developed. It is standard practice in regulatory archaeology to excavate only a sample of significant sites, with the level of effort determined through negotiations between the State Historic Preservation Office, project managers and archaeologists, he said.

UVM's Consulting Archaeology Program provides archaeological consulting services to businesses and individuals, non-profit groups, local governments, and state and federal agencies by helping to identify, evaluate and develop management plans for prehistoric and historic sites that may be affected by various types of construction.


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