What was Westport like 15,000 years ago?
Start the tour near the trailhead kiosk.
Welcome to the Handy House Trail! I’m Holly Herbster, a professional archaeologist who has worked in southern New England for more than 30 years. I have helped document a wide variety of ancient and historic sites in Westport, including leading the 2004 town-wide archaeological survey that was funded by the Westport Historical Society. As you walk the trail and stop at several locations, I’m going to talk about the more than 10,000 year human history of the area and point out some of the things archaeologists look for to help identify sites.
As you begin the trail walk, look to your right at the large boulder sticking up from the ground and the smaller stones that have been piled on top of it. You will see lots of stones of all shapes and sizes as you walk the trail. These rocks, the hills and depressions, and the wetlands around you were all formed by glaciers that crept back and forth across Westport for millions of years. Ice that was more than a mile thick would expand south from the polar ice cap when world temperatures were cold and then inch back towards the north when the climate warmed. As it moved back and forth, the thick ice scoured the surface breaking off and picking up stones and bedrock. Geologists who look at the color and texture of the rock know that some of the stone in Westport may have been carried south in the ice from as far away as Canada. Some of the Native American chipped stone tools found in Westport were made from stone from the Blue Hills in Boston that traveled in the glacier.
Around 15,000 years ago, the last of the ice began melting in Westport and a mostly treeless landscape remained. At that time, the shoreline was several miles away, and the present-day islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were connected to the mainland. The melting glacial ice created the rivers and streams we see today. All of the soil and rock that had been frozen in the ice was released and dropped on the surface. The billions of gallons of water released from the melting glacier slowly raised sea levels, and by about 5,000 years ago the low lying valleys including Buzzards Bay filled in and the shoreline and islands we recognize today were formed.