Town Analyses > Williston > Cultural Landscape
Williston has a long and rich history of human settlement far predating the last several centuries of European influence. Though the clues are not so easily found and interpreted as those of European settlement, the Williston landscape abounds with evidence of its prehistoric past. To date, almost 100 archeological sites have been documented in Williston spanning the time period from about 9500BC-1600AD.
The distribution of Williston’s archeological sites reveal a lot about what landscape elements were important to early people; most of the sites were clustered along rivers, streams and other water sources. Proximity to water was extremely important when early people sited their settlements and it’s easy to imagine why. They consumed the water directly, of course, but water sources also often concentrate game and the moist, rich lands nearby often foster productive edible plants such as butternuts, ostrich ferns (fiddleheads), and wild leeks. Waterways would have been used for transportation both on foot and by boat as well, just as they were by early European explorers and settlers. Early peoples also seemed to prefer relatively flat topography for their settlements; this often coincides with areas near water, but interestingly also coincides with much modern development activity.
Imagine yourself as part of a Paleoindian hunter/gatherer group in the tundra and woodland mosaic of the Champlain Valley 10,500 years ago. What parts of the landscape would attract you, where would you want to live? A small hill in the midst of a large expanse of tundra might seem attractive for a base camp, especially if it was near a supply of fresh water. The hill would provide a good view of approaching game and if you camped on the south side of the hill you would even get a slightly warmer microclimate in the none too warm post-glacial environment. This is precisely the scenario found at the so-called Mahan site
The Mahan site gives us a glimpse of the earliest cultures in Williston, but prehistoric cultures changed over the millennia as their environment continued to change and as new technologies, such as the bow and arrow, pottery and agriculture, were developed. The archeological sites in Williston document these changing technologies and cultures and suggest a nearly continuous human occupation from the earliest inhabitants of Vermont to the time of European settlement. While settlement locations and daily activities surely changed with these cultural shifts, the location of archeological sites reveals common threads in their use of the landscape over time. Recognizing these threads ties our own landuse patterns to many of the same features of Williston’s landscape.
Haviland, W. A., and M. W. Power. 1994. The Original Vermonters: Native Inhabitants, Past and Present. University Press of New England, Hanover.