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Sunday, May 29, 2011

The First Excavations: a photo-history

The archives at UMaine, Orono contained hundreds of slides chronicling the Hirundo Excavations, as well as each site form and report written by the excavators. It was an exciting look at all the work done on the refuge. 
 Pushaw Stream 

Aerial view of Hirundo
The archaeological excavations were initiated as a summer field school from 1971 to 1975. 

David Sanger (Left) and Bob MacKay (Right)


The excavations were run by Robert MacKay and David Sanger with extensive collaboration with a number of other disciplines including geology and paleoecology. The site was first discovered when a neighbor noticed fire-cracked rock and some stone artifacts in the eroding bedrock.

Hirundo excavations in process

The Hirundo site is expansive and covers 250 m of river bank. Dating of the site indicates 7,000 years of occupation.
The Fieldschool Crew
Hirundo Wildlife Refuge's Founder Oliver Larouche
reading next to the trenches. 
MacKay with student


Water sieving
Students excavating through the thick forest groundcover
(Photos courtesy of University of Maine, Orono)


Saturday, May 28, 2011

University of Maine Photography Session

Yesterday we spent the entire day in the basement of the University of Maine's Anthropology/Folklore building. This place is more or less my dream playground equipped with labs, mechanized photo stations, a flint-knapping room, and a repository (aka The Cave) that holds the majority of Maine's artifacts. We had two goals for our work yesterday.

1) Photograph artifacts that were recovered from the Hirundo excavations and represent the cultural chronology of the site.

2) Sort through and scan slides from the original Hirudno excavations and field schools in the 1970's.

The photos we took and scanned will be used for an upcoming Hirundo Archaeology webpage and public lectures (i.e. Rebecca's a week from today!)

Here are some examples of artifact photos:



Ground Felsite Plummet, Archaic (9000-3000 BP)
Though the true purpose of these items remains uncertain, it is
hypothesized that they were used as weights for fishing.


Felsite Projectile Point, Middle Archaic

Chert Projectile Point, Late Archaic

 Ground Slate Projectile Point, Early-Middle Archaic

The early-mid Archaic period in Maine is partially complexing as chipped stone artifacts became vastly replaced by ground stone technology. In other words, people make tools by grinding instead of chipping. As soon as it came into place, ground stone technology suddenly transitioned back to chipped stone towards the end of the Archaic era. Some archaeologists argue a change in population caused a change in technology, others suggest the transition was merely a fad among a single culture. 

Ground Slate Celt, Archaic
Axe Head or Chopping Tool (perhaps hafted to wood handle)

The chipped/groundstone technology change marks a large question mark across the spectrum of archaeology. What exactly does the transition mean? Does it suggest the incursion of a new population? Or, does it represent technology changing as it does today? Take for example computers: if an archaeologist identified 21st century humans by their computer preference we would mostly be broken up by Mac and PC users. Can you say that different computers identify unique cultural groups? Depending on what questions you are asking, it could be completely legitimate or absolutely inaccurate.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hirundo Archaeology

We warmly welcome two interns, recently graduated Archaeologists: Matt Stirn (Davidson Collge) and Rebecca Sgouros (Boston University). Having completed their degrees, these two excitedly offered to come up and reinvigorate the archaeology in the area. 


Hirundo has not always been a wildlife refuge. Occupation of the area has been long and rich. In the 1970s University of Maine excavations proved the history of the site spanned over 5,000 years. These earliest communities relied both on the good fishing in the area, and on wetland resources.


Rebecca Sgouros will be giving a joint talk with local University of Maine professor Dr. David Sanger titled "The First People and First Landscape of the Penobscot Valley Region" on June 4, 2011. The talk will be held in the Shelter on the refuge at Gate 1, Parker Reed Shelter. Below is a brief summary of their talk.


"After the last ice age which ended around thirteen thousand years ago, the Penobscot River Valley changed dramatically. Environments developed that provided plentiful resources for the earliest inhabitants to settle. Changes in the climate and ecology of the area required ancient communities to continuously adapt and develop new hunting, gathering, and fishing practices to ensure survival. This talk will consider several sites within the local area and the evidence they provide for the changing landscape and food practices of the past."

While here, Matt and Rebecca are planning some great things for Hirundo archaeology. Their goals include: a survey of the area for identifying new sites, creating an online digital database of the past excavation's artifacts, adding an archaeology page to the Hirundo Wildlife Refuge website, the June 4 Archaeology Talk followed by show-and-tell with the artifacts, and planning some fun Archaeology Month events! October is Maine's Archaeology month and Hirundo plans to host a mock-dig for school kids to get a taste of the excitement for themselves.