January 21, 2020

Spearhead a look back at Vermont > 9,000-year-old artifact tells state’s early history

DERBY, Vt. — A lucky find by two girls from Derby is helping archaeologists put together the puzzle of Vermont’s earliest human history.

A sharply pointed rock, with two short ears and a deep groove down the middle, the rock found by Celie Dagesse, 8, and Emily Wheeler, 7, looked just like an arrowhead.

“It looked just like the ones in a museum,” Emily said.

Celie picked it up and tossed it excitedly to her mother and said, “Look, Ma.”

For months the family quizzed friends and acquaintances to learn the significance of the find. Earlier this month, they learned it was a spear point dating back more than 9,000 years.

It is the oldest evidence of American Indians in what is now Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and proved for the first time that they wandered to Vermont’s far north, shortly after the glacier’s retreated.

Linked with similar artifacts in New Hampshire and Maine, the spearhead suggests these early people traveled widely from Vermont to northern Maine. They apparently were willing to explore new territory to hunt and fish.

“This is a dramatic piece of evidence,” said Stephen Loring, an anthropologist in the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center. “These little gems of information that come our way are critical to unraveling this earliest period.”

The dull-gray, 2-inch stone was shaped by Indians shortly after the glaciers left the Green Mountains. They wandered a land that looked more like northern Labrador than Vermont, a tundra with stunted spruce and alders in low spots — perfect habitat for woolly mammoth, caribou, musk ox and beaver.

The style of the spearpoint makes it easier for archeologists to date the stone. The groove on the stone, called a flute, was used for a limited time by Indians until it was replaced by a different style.

“It’s like looking at a ’57 Chevy and saying, `Yeah, it’s a ’57 Chevy,’ ” said state archeologist Giovanna Peebles.

University of Vermont archeologist Peter Thomas said it was easy to link the Lake Salem find to other sites in northern New Hampshire and Maine.

“Early on, people are moving across broad expanses of the north,” he said.

Archeologists are planning to return to Lake Salem next summer to see if they can learn more about the point and look for other artifacts, Peebles said.

For the moment, Celie said she didn’t know what she would do with the point. Loring has offered to replicate it so the original point can be displayed in Vermont and studied by others.

“It looks like a wolf’s head,” she said. “It has two points that look like ears, and the long part is a nose.”

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