Paleoindian Period (10,000 – 7,000 BC)

by Jacob Musial

About 16,000 years ago the Laurentide Ice Sheet that had covered the Northeast for at least 50,000 years began to recede.  By 11,000 BC the southern and northern coast of New England was ice-free and the glaciers that covered Vermont had begun to melt.

Between 11,000 and 10,000 BC people began to enter New England behind the southern edge of the receding glacier, but the land they entered looked nothing like it does today.  Initially, there were few to no trees and the land was covered by tundra.  Much of Vermont was under a saltwater sea, the Champlain Sea, which at its full extent in 10,000 BC covered an area of at least 20,500 square miles, compared to the 490 square miles of modern Lake Champlain.

Little is known about the Paleoindian period in Vermont, but considering the size of the “fluted” Paleoindian spear points, and what is known about the period in other parts of the country, it is clear that the first people to arrive in Vermont were hunting large mammals.  The early Paleoindians relied heavily on the meat of megafauna, like mammoths and mastodons.  The fossilized remains of mammoth have been found as near as Mount Holly, but by 10,000 BC mammoths and other species of megafauna in North America were nearing extinction.

Populations in Vermont most likely subsisted mainly by hunting caribou and by exploiting aquatic resources from the Champlain Sea, which, in addition to fish and crustaceans, would have included large marine mammals such as whales, seals, and porpoises.  The aquatic resources offered by the Champlain Sea would have been available till at least as late 8200 BC, and possibly later.

Paleoindians followed game over a wide-ranging area and did not usually stay in one place for a very long time, and by 10,500 BC people were moving through the region surrounding Poultney.  Paleoindian artifacts are rare in the Poultney area, as they are throughout the Northeast, but enough have been found to attest to the presence of a Paleoindian population in the general area.  Artifacts from this period have been found as close as the shores of Lake Bomoseen, about ten miles north of the college, and bands of Paleoindians almost certainly would have made use of the resources around Poultney.