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Archaeologist visits Coolidge Site

PLYMOUTH NOTCH - Indiana Jones won't find much action at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, but archaeologists still find it pretty interesting.

As part of Vermont Archaeology Month, archaeologist Sheila Charles gave a talk at the Coolidge site on Sept. 7 to a crowd of about 20 people. Charles is a former Rutland resident and a consulting archaeologist for the Green Mountain National Forest. She is also a cultural resources specialist for the state of New Hampshire's Department of Transportation.

"I'm always happy to come back to this beautiful spot," she said. "There isn't a lot of archaeological work done here at all. Archaeology is actually discouraged unless there is a strong reason to do something, because archaeology is destructive. The resources it uncovers are not renewable. Non-renewable resources should be preserved and protected."

Charles discourages collectors from removing artifacts from a site, unless it's done properly: making sure the artifact is documented, photographed in situ, and at least some of its provenance determined.

"Otherwise, it's like ripping a page from a book," she said. "I'll ask students what their favorite book is, and most of them say, Harry Potter. I tell them taking an artifact is like ripping a page out of Harry Potter. I caution against being a collector."
Charles added that all archaeological activity is subject to both state and federal law. All that aside, though, archeology is a powerful tool for placing history in context of its times and understanding the past.

"You're looking at elements of the past from 10,000 years ago to the present," she said. "You're bringing the whole puzzle together."
Charles said that among the most interesting things she'd ever unearthed was a chamber pot in Boston, emblazoned with the words "George Rex," or "King George" in English.

"That was at a pre-1776 tavern," she said. "It's a sample of political humor. That was an exceptional piece. It told us about the politics and economics of the time."

Archaeology, said Charles, is one way to see how much of human history is interconnected. In Colonial times, the key to this region's history is to study the waterways: the lakes, the rivers such as the Hudson and the Connecticut; they served as the chief highways through the region. When the industrial era began, these same waterways provided the power for the mills which sprung up on the river banks, not to mention a complex genealogical network of family trees to be navigated.

Bill Jenney, the Coolidge site administrator, said the site has needed some help from archaeologists in the past.
"When we put in a village-wide fire suppression system, we had someone analyze the area in case there was anything that would be unnecessarily disturbed," he said. "It would be interesting to investigate the early history here."
Vermont Archaeology Month continues with a number of events in the area.
This Saturday, Sept. 14, there will be a guided hike along the 18th century Crown Point Road, which was critical to prosecuting the French and Indian Wars. The four-mile walk begins at Paine's Tavern in Cavendish, goes to the 1759 10th and 11th mile markers, and on to Grout Cemetery. The event is free and begins at 10 a.m. Organizers advise bringing lunch and water.
Also on Saturday, ecologist Tom Wessels will lead a walk and talk on how to interpret a forest's history by looking at the trees - their shapes, their scars, and the stumps. That takes place at the Mount Independence State Historic Site in Orwell between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., and costs $5.
Other events will be taking place in Addison County.  For a complete list of Archaeology Month events visit historicsites.vermont.gov.