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Students Dig Up The Past

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Cambridge, Vermont - June 17, 2009

The soil starts to feel like clay one meter beneath the surface.

"This is getting really hard to dig," Aziz Fatnassi said as he lifted a heavy shovel full of dirt. He hopes to find clues to the people who lived on the land hundreds of years ago.

He has found a few arrowhead points, some of about a hundred artifacts that have already been uncovered during a surface inspection of the oat field at Boyden Farm. Fatnassi grew up in the Middle East and is excited to be exploring archaeology right here in Vermont.

"I grew up going to all the ancient Carthaginian sites in Tunisia," he said, "so I saw archaeology happening all the time and I was like, wow, this is cool."

He is one of half a dozen students on a five-week archaeology field project through Johnson State College. They're looking for artifacts that suggest how the early Abenaki lived, what they ate, and why they settled here on the banks of the Lamoille River.

"The Lamoille River is the least well known river archaeologically, arguably in the state of Vermont but certainly in the Champlain Valley," said Corbett Torrence, a visiting professor at JSC who is directing the project. He says understanding the artifacts can offer insights into how people used the river and how it guided their way of life.

"If one has an understanding of the past, one certainly has a better ability to guide their future," Torrence said. "For example, the Indians selected to live on these third terraces. If they chose to live on those lower terraces, you might get swept away."

Lessons from long ago prove there's more to learn today.

"This is really an untold story," Fatnassi said. "Not a lot of people find it interesting, not a lot of people want to dig here. But now that we've found stuff, we're hoping we can generate interest and get other people as excited about it as we are."

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

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