Old Collections, New Analyses: A Study of Archaeological Sites in Acadia National Park

The cultural heritage of Acadia National Park includes at least 24 known Indigenous archaeological sites. Many are coastal shell heaps that range from 500 to 3,000 years old and contain materials such as stone and bone tools, pottery, and remains of food and medicines. However, knowledge of cultural shell sites in the park is incomplete, preventing effective management just as these important markers of past Wabanaki lifeways are threatened by rising sea levels, erosion, and waterfront construction projects.

Though a number of archaeological sites in the park have been excavated, research has been intermittent, with little analysis or interpretation of site contents, or their cultural and scientific value. Newsom, a citizen of the Penobscot Nation, is analyzing existing material collections from two midden sites in Acadia National Park to chronicle past occupation and use, and generate a baseline data set for future studies of Indigenous peoples and their connections to the region.

Newsom and two graduate students, Isaac St. John (Maliseet), University of New Brunswick, and Natalie Dana Lolar (Passamaquoddy/Penobscot), University of Maine, are reviewing the detailed field notes and photographs generated by previous archaeologists and re-analyzing the recovered materials, organizing lithic tools and aboriginal ceramics in time and space based on patterns in artifact form and function. This project will provide details on the content of collections under the care of the National Park Service, as well as their value to future research.

The findings will contribute to knowledge exchange and communication with Wabanaki communities and other stakeholders to inform stewardship decisions for cultural resources in Acadia. The National Park Service must consult with Indigenous stakeholders on management of cultural resources.  Newsom will facilitate consultation between tribal representatives and park officials to inform joint decisions regarding shell midden site management, research, and protection.

“Dr. Newsom’s approach to integrate archeological data with Indigenous perspectives to interpret the past is ground-breaking research,” said Rebecca Cole-Will, Chief of Resource Management at Acadia National Park. “As park service managers, we are responsible for preserving and protecting significant cultural resources while also consulting on a government-to-government basis with affiliated Indian Tribes. The results of this novel approach to consultation will fully integrate Wabanaki perspective and provide information to inform stewardship.”

By communicating archaeological research with park visitors and local communities, Newsom’s work should convey the depth and diversity of past human experiences with Acadia’s land and waterscapes.

Read more:

“Indigenizing Archeology in Acadia National Park”, nps.gov
Gathering Sweetgrass and Renewing the Past,” Park Science
In Conversation with the Ancestors,” Genealogy