Cassidy: Artifacts

May 2, 2016

When Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro announced an exhibit of local Native American artifacts, I made a special trip to the library, but then walked right by the small, anonymous bits of clay and stone in the local history section and had to ask a librarian for directions to the display.

A printed guide said that in 2004 Gordon Crandall, a local “avocational archeologist,” discovered a projectile point and a flake of flint in a test pit on a point of land near where the West River joins the Connecticut. Crandall engaged some young students to help him look for more artifacts a few feet below the surface of the earth. A casual observer might not even have noticed most of the objects, and fragments of objects, which are up to 3,500 years old. They include arrowheads chipped from flint, “projectile stones” that hunters threw at animals they were hunting, and the oldest pottery shards ever found in Vermont, which look like crudely flattened pieces of brick. All are humble, everyday objects, serving everyday needs.

The artifacts are also humbling in that they remind me of how comparatively easy modern life is: I can barely imagine the work of chipping at flint to make those points for arrows and lances, or the work of digging clay, forming it, and building fires that would burn hot enough to turn earth to cooking pottery.

The bits of stone and clay that lay beneath the surface of the earth for thousands of years humbled me in another way as well. They made me realize with a snap just how long people have lived in this place that we mostly take for granted and just how short our own time here really is. After all, it was only 400 years ago that Europeans came ashore in New England and began to move up the rivers to settle inland, disrupting and then displacing those native settlements.

And now comes the announcement that Rutland will welcome 100 refugees from war-torn Syria, fleeing misery and death. The news has set off alarms in some quarters – with concerns about jobs, support, and assimilation. I find that ironic since for me that little collection of artifacts is a mute reminder that most of us who are here now are descendants of immigrants - and recent immigrants at that.