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Vermont's First Cultivators: The Prehistoric Origins of Farming in New England

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Native Americans here in Vermont were cultivating various indigenous crops when the first Europeans arrived in the early 1600s. In the broad region of eastern North America, indigenous farming had substantially transformed Native American societies long before European contact, as in the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest. This transformation led to greater sedentism, population growth, and intergroup conflict once maize (corn), beans, and squash were domesticated. However, the degree of change among local Native Americans, the origins of their farming, and its dating have all remained elusive in Vermont and the broader New England region, in part due to a paucity of research and in part due to limitations imposed by archaeological preservation. This talk summarizes recently obtained archaeological evidence that suggests crop cultivation in Vermont, including maize, beans, and squash, is minimally about 900 - 1,000 years old, dating to ca. a.d. 1100. Recent evidence also suggests that tobacco may have grown locally in Vermont much earlier, dating back to 2,300 - 2,400 years ago, or 300 - 400 b.c. Further evidence suggests that squash and/or gourds may have been locally cultivated in New England much earlier still, dating back as early as 5,500 - 6,000 years ago, or 3500 - 4000 b.c. This information from Vermont and the broader region suggests that by late prehistoric times farming had indeed led to changes in the size and permanency of Native American settlements all across the region, matching patterns found elsewhere. Finally, the implications of these discoveries for understanding precontact Native Americans' societies are considered. Presented by James Peterson, Anthropology, UVM.

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