The First People

Abenki engaged in maple sugaringThe first people of Vermont lived in a climate still dominated by glaciers. Evidence that survives of these people, today called Paleoindians, is fragmentary, and comes from the research of archaeologists. Approximately 12,000 years ago the Paleoindians came north, following the large roaming caribou herds that they hunted. They were nomadic hunters and gatherers, usually living in small bands of twenty-five to thirty people. As the glaciers continued to recede the Paleoindians moved on, migrating even farther north in pursuit of their large prey.

The changing climate produced a new environment. Plants and animals that are familiar to us today began to appear. Gradually, the people living in the region adapted to the new environment. This era, identified by archaeologists as the Archaic Period, began about 8,000 years ago. The people of this time, unlike the Paleoindians, moved in a defined territory on a seasonal basis, hunting, gathering wild plants, and fishing.

About 3,000 years ago, another major change occurred when people began to cultivate plants. The Woodland Period was characterized by a more settled life. People continued to hunt, fish, and collect wild plants, but increasingly depended on crops they grew as a source of food. Raising corn, squash, and beans required clearing fields, digging, sowing seeds, weeding, guarding the plants from birds and animals, harvesting, preserving, and fertilizing. These activities took place over three seasons and as a result the Woodland people established more permanent villages. Trade routes developed between villages. Local clays were used in pottery production.

Over time, the Woodland people evolved into five different groups characterized by language. Two of those groups lived in this region: Iroquoian speakers west of Lake Champlain and Algonquian speakers to the east. The Western Abenaki were part of the Algonquian family, the largest language group in North America. These were the people whom Europeans would first encounter when they moved inland from the Atlantic coast.

Petroglyphs. Bellows Falls, Vermont. Pre-contact period.Ceramic jar, fired clay. Iroquois style, c. 1400–1580.

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