SWANTON — Archeologists working in Swanton since September have uncovered artifacts going back to 500 A.D.
The team from the University of Vermont (UVM) is excavating 100 meters of soil in a cornfield along Waugh Farm Road. Swanton Village will be laying a new water main along the road next year, but was required to secure any archeological resources first.
The site is on the Missisquoi River flood plain, an area “known to be very archeologically rich,” said Geoff Mandel, research supervisor with the consulting archaeology program at UVM.
Archeologists have found evidence of three long-term occupations of the land between 500 A.D. and 1600 A.D., along with evidence of a fourth, sporadic occupation.
Because the new pipes will be buried by just four feet of soil, that is as far as Mandel’s team may excavate. There would likely be evidence of older residents lower in the soil, he explained.
It appears the area with the richest finds may have been raised above the river, with the Missisquoi meandering through some of the lower areas, explained Mandel. That raised area has overlapping artifacts covering a 200 to 400 year span.
“It’s been a phenomenal site,” said Mandel.
In addition to providing water and food, rivers also were a transportation network. “This was the highway system back then,” said Mandel indicating the nearby Missisquoi.
Like archeologists at the Route 78 site excavated in Swanton last summer, Mandel’s team is finding evidence of trade with groups from outside the area, including stone native to Pennsylvania.
Artifacts and soil from the site are all being brought back to UVM where they will be sorted through in far greater detail. Mandel suspects they’ll find evidence of corn, which in turn provides information about the lifestyle of the inhabitants. In order to raise corn, they had to settle long enough to plant and harvest it.
Back in the lab, they researchers use a combination of carbon dating and comparison with other pottery to date the items found at the site. The patterns used when making the pottery changed over time, Mandel explained. By comparing the new samples to ones that have already been dated, they can determine how old they are. “There’s already a pretty good chronology out there,” he said.
The archeologists also have uncovered artifacts from the early 1800s. Such finds are “like little time capsules,” said Mandel.
Kate Kenny, program historian, believes the site was the home of a Revolutionary War soldier born in Massachusetts who lived briefly in Swanton, arriving around 1800 and departing for Ohio in 1813.
They’ve found buttons, greenware and other artifacts from what may be the foundation of a building he occupied, including a piece of metal Kenny suspects may have been part of a bridle.
Despite temperatures hovering around freezing this week, Mandel said, “This is the fun and easiest part.”
“It’s the lab work where you really see results,” he added. Once that work is done, Mandel and his team will be presenting their findings to the Swanton community.