September 26, 2023

Museum displays artifacts from digs

ORONO – Artifacts from Maine archaeology digs over the last 30 years, representing life from between 300 and 11,000 years ago, are currently on display through Sept. 10 at the University of Maine’s Hudson Museum in the Maine Center for the Arts.

The exhibit – “From the Ground Up: Artifacts from the University of Maine Department of Archaeology” – features two components, prehistoric and historic artifacts.

The prehistoric display includes stone tools, bone tools and pottery from the Ceramic Period, from 500 to 3,000 years ago, representing the ancestors of the modern Wabanaki people of Maine.

Some of the tools on display were discovered by UMaine archaeologists in the late 1980s and early 1990s near Gilman Falls dam in Old Town. Even older artifacts are attributed to long-lived traditions dating back 11,000 years.

The second, the historic display, includes 17th century collections from Fort Pentagoet and St. Castin’s Habitation in Castine, and are augmented by historic documentation.

The collected materials date between 1635 and 1707 and include clay pipes, axe blades, splitting wedges, weaponry and reconstructed pieces of pottery, all from a period that represents French ventures into Acadian Maine in the 17th Century and the disputes over colonial boundaries.

It also was a time when Maine’s native populations struggled to retain parts of their homeland that were under siege.

Many of the items in both displays were discovered by UMaine archaeology professor emeritus David Sanger and anthropology professor Alaric Faulkner.

The exhibit was assembled by Faulkner and Brian Robinson, assistant professor of anthropology and climate change, and includes photographs by Stephen Bicknell, a research assistant in the anthropology department who worked with Sanger for many years.

Some of the stone gouges and ground stone rods in the prehistoric exhibit are from a site near Gilman Falls dam in Old Town.

They were excavated in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the federal government began mandating archaeological research in areas destined for major redevelopment or the relicensing of hydroelectric dams. Many of the tools are unfinished artifacts, accompanied by the pecking stones used to make them.

The tools in the exhibit are particularly significant, Robinson said, because they help establish “the context for understanding a newly discovered cultural tradition, one of the most ancient here in the Gulf of Maine. They represent 5,000 years of continuous technological and ritual activities from a period 4,000-9,000 years ago, double the age of the pyramids of Egypt.”

The Gilman Falls site is believed to have been a “manufacturing” site for tools. Also, the discovery of long, round sharpening stones – created larger than was practically necessary – leads archaeologists to wonder if some tools became elaborated symbols in ritual contexts, beyond utilitarian needs, according to Robinson.

Contrasts between artifacts discovered in different parts of the state and from different time periods make Maine a great place to work and to do archaeology, Robinson said.

“The coast and the long rivers have connected Maine’s native inhabitants for thousands of years, reflected in the four tribes of the Wabanaki Confederation that are so much a part of Maine’s self-image,” he said. “The more you know about these interconnections, the more interesting they become.”

The Hudson Museum is free to visit and open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. The museum can be reached by telephone at 581-1901, or visit

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