Friday, December 19, 2008

A small lake and mountain in the Kilkenny Wilderness close to where human artifacts were found that dated back 11,000 years

It’s mostly conjecture and the piecing together of a few facts to create a picture of who was inhabiting the Kilkenny ten, or eleven, thousand years ago. The artifacts don’t say a lot. This is close to the time of the Clovis Culture in the Southwest of which we also know little. Innu and Inuit hunters have told me stories that go back to a time when the people were so new in the land they learned to live observing animals. In one story they shared their teachers are wolves and crows (ravens in some versions) who teach them how to caribou. At any rate, who ever lived here in New England and southern Canada that long ago must have come a long distance to get here. It would mean, too, that whoever arrived here right at the heels of the Wisconsinan glacier had to be closely related to those first humans who came across to the western hemisphere.

In an evolutionary, Darwinian sense, they were opportunists and generalists. They would have been hunters, nomads, skilled in all ways of contending, following game, large animals probably, maybe even mammoths, large bison, and mastodons, and not carrying a lot of extra baggage. It's likely that they migrated from the northwest entry point swiftly across the continent staying close to the front edge of the melting glacier.

They may very well have been ancestors to the Abenaki and Iroquois. Maybe a handful of those first Pleistocene people settled and made the northeast their home. They spread out quickly, in just a thousand years or so, and developed unique cultures using a common language. They were not ‘hunters and gathers’ per se. As they settled they developed a sophisticated “agricultural” practice in which they cataloged the wild animals and plants that were most useful to their needs. They knew exactly where the plants grew and could find them as needed. Ginseng and Goldenseal are two examples of plants they relied on heavily because of the plants’ antibiotic qualities. They altered areas to create environments more favorable to some plants and game animals, deer primarily, that were more commonly used as food and medicine. They made decoys out of grass and wood that they painted to look like common game birds, like ducks and geese. They may even have built fences to corral animals and used fire to clear out underbrush in the forests to aid hunting. In some cases they learned how to propagate and grow cultivars from wild plants. Jerusalem artichoke is one example

During one of Champlain voyages to America he wrote that at the mouth of the Saco River he visited an Abenaki (probably Penobscot) village that was enclosed by a palisade of logs, like a fort, that was organized around a number of activities including boat building, fishing and whaling, and growing corn and vegetables. He describes how the village preserved food through the winter months by placing it in trenches four feet deep (below the frost line) covered with tight mats woven from sea grass and the trenches were backfilled with very dry beach sand. Corn, Jerusalem artichokes, several varieties of squash and beans, and wild parsnips or carrots they cultivated that could all be preserved for months with little spoilage. They also dried meat and fish and preserved some fruits like blueberries in pemmican, their winter staple.

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