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Town Analyses > Putney > Cultural Landscape

Prehistory

The earliest human inhabitants in and around the Putney area likely came soon after the glaciers departed, sometime around 11,000 years ago. These Paleoindians arrived at the fertile land along the open Connecticut River valley from territories farther south and west. Though archeological evidence is scarce, it is believed that small, dispersed, and highly mobile groups of roughly thirty individuals roamed the countryside high and low in search of seasonal wild edibles and animal game. As the climate warmed and the vegetation and animals adapted to a forested landscape, humans also developed a novel way of life.

The Archaic period spans from roughly 9,500 to 3000 years ago, and was characterized by small bands of people who still hunted, gathered and fished, both for food and clothing, but did so in well-defined territories and campsites along waterways. In addition to creating new implements like the atlatl, later peoples from this period also carved wooden bowls and dugout canoes for travel. Subsequently came the Woodland Period, in which the seeds of agricultural domestication ushered in the age of farming. With agriculture, permanent villages were established which could support larger groups of people. Social institutions flourished too, including hierarchical leadership, ceremonial rituals like burial sites, and inter-tribal trade. New tools developed with this more sedentary lifestyle as well; pottery pieces have been uncovered in dozens of sites along the CT River valley.

The descendants of the Woodland peoples eventually became established as several independent tribal groups throughout the territory that is now Northern New England. Collectively they were called Abenakis, a name given them by French traders at Quebec. In Vermont were the western Abenaki, comprised of the Sokoki, Cowasuck, and Missisquoi tribes. In Southeastern Vermont the Abenaki people established extensive villages with as many as 1000 people each along the tributaries of the Connecticut River. They assembled longhouses which housed several related families throughout the lower reaches of the watersheds.

Other cultural artifacts include pottery, bark vessels, and baskets, in addition to dugout canoes and toboggan sleds for transportation. Continuing with earlier Woodland traditions, the Abenaki cultivated corn, squash, and beans, gathered wild fruits and nuts, and utilized a range of medicinal plants. The natives also burned the understory of forests so as to enrich the soil for crops and clear the way for hunting. One interesting link between the past and present cultural landscapes of Vermont is that the Abenaki were familiar with the process of boiling map sap into syrup, an art which they taught to the colonists. Finally, a central element of the Abenaki experience was a worldview deeply connected to a sensuous, animate earth. Shaman spiritual leaders both treated the sick and mediated the intimate relationship between humans and the living land.

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