Lecture Notes Week Three: Anthropology 3291

© 2001 Michael Deal

The Archaic Period

Until recently, we knew very little about aboriginal lifeways during the Early and Middle Archaic on the Maritime Peninsula. In fact, these periods were more often referred to in the literature as the "Great Hiatus" (Tuck 1984) and much of the discussion concerned why we did not have sites dating to these periods (Sanger 1979). A number of hypotheses were presented to explain the lack of evidence. One hypothesis featured an unproductive (boreal) environment with a low carrying capacity for human population, which predicted that there were few archaeological sites to be found (Fitting 1968). More recent reviews of the palynological data have brought this theory into question (Petersen and Putnam 1992). Sanger (1975; 1979) and Tuck (1975) offered hypotheses related to sea level changes in the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic shores of the Maritimes. Sanger (1975) suggested that the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy were too shallow to permit the circulation of sea water, which resulted in a relatively low level of marine resources during the early Holocene. In a later article, Sanger (1979) suggested that lower sea levels at this time affected river gradients, making them too steep to be used by important anadromous fish species. Tuck (1975) suggested that there were substantial coastal populations during the early Holocene, but that their sites have since been inundated by rising sea levels throughout the region. He believed that there was continual occupation of the coastal areas of the North Atlantic from Late Paleoindian times to European contact, which he referred to as the North Eastern Maritime Continuum (Tuck 1975). Sanger (1979) believed that the paucity of identified interior sites was due to a lack of research and few systematic surveys of interior areas. He also suggested that the material culture of the Early and Middle Archaic in the Maritime Peninsula might not resemble that of comparative sites and collections in northern New England.

Archaeologists working in New England and further south had developed an Early and Middle Archaic cultural sequence based on diagnostic projectile point styles. Early Archaic styles consisted of a series of stemmed and bifurcate-based points primarily associated with the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic areas. The Neville site, located on the Merrimack River, New Hampshire, served as the model for the Middle Archaic sequence in New England (Dincauze 1975). Dincauze identified Neville as an interior fishing camp, based on ground stone woodworking tools, net sinkers, and large concentrations of mercury in sediments. Projectile points and winged spearthrower weights were evidence for hunting. A series of distinctive projectile point styles were identified. In particular, Neville points had triangular blades and tapering stems, and dated to between 8000 and 6500 B.P. Stark points had less distinct shoulders, and pointed stems and dated between 6500 and 6000 B.P. Archaeologists in Maine and the Maritimes looked through existing collections for examples of these diagnostic projectile point styles. Speiss and others (1983) identified only 13 Early Archaic points in Maine, and these were found primarily west of the Penobscot River drainage. They discovered 357 Middle Archaic points, but again the numbers were much greater in southern Maine and trailed off to the north. Only seven Middle Archaic "Stark-like" projectile points, and no earlier styles, have been found in collections from the Maritimes (Deal and Rutherford 1991; Murphy 1998). Researchers were looking for diagnostic projectile points similar those found on contemporary sites further to the south, which were not there.

Gulf of Maine Archaic (ca. 9500-6000 B.P.)

More recent research in Maine indicates that Sanger's "incomplete data" hypothesis has considerable merit for understanding the Early and Middle Archaic for Maine and the Maritime Provinces. Limited underwater research and accidental finds of fishermen have also identified drowned sites from this period. The excavation of deeply stratified interior sites in northern Maine led to the reinterpretation of the Early Archaic material culture from the region. Robinson and others (1992) have coined the term "Gulf of Maine Archaic Tradition" to describe the Early and Middle Archaic manifestations for the Gulf of Maine watershed. This tradition amounts to a "technological pattern" consisting of a diverse ground stone toolkit and a chipped stone industry featuring quartz unifaces and non-diagnostic projectile points. This absence of diagnostic projectile points partly explains why so few sites had been identified for the period. Robinson's model predicts that projectile points were less important to subsistence practices in the region, or they were being made from more perishable materials, such as bone. Robinson suggests that this pattern indicates a primarily marine subsistence strategy, in which hunting, trapping, and netting of marine species did not require chipped stone points. The diagnostic artifacts of the Gulf of Maine pattern are the full-channeled gouges that were previously considered to date to the Late Archaic. Associated with these elegant gouges are ground stone rods, which have been interpreted as implements used to sharpen the cutting edges of the gouges. This research has also established that assemblages from central and northern New England sites that consist almost entirely of quartz uniface tools date to the Early and Middle Archaic (Dincauze 1994:12).

Robinson (1992) also identifies a Middle Archaic burial complex, believed to be associated with the latter part of Gulf of Maine Archaic Tradition. The Morrill Point burial complex (ca. 8000 to 6000 B.P.) features full-channeled gouges, rods, adzes, celts, whetstones, unifacial tools, red ochre, and burial locations on gravel knolls and ridges, away from occupation sites. So far, four sites have been identified to this complex, including Sunkhaze Ridge and Passadumkeag in Maine, Table Lands, New Hampshire, and Morrill Point, Massachusetts (Robinson 1992:79-86).

Brigham and Sharrow Sites

The Brigham and Sharrow sites, located near the confluence of the Piscataquis and Sebec rivers, central Maine, were key to the development of the Gulf of Maine Archaic Tradition (Petersen 1991; Petersen and Putnam 1992). These sites contained materials from the period of lightest occupation at the Neville site (i.e., pre-5000 B.P.), including diverse ground stone tools and unstandardized core, cobble, and uniface tools (Dincauze 1994:13). Ground stone tools included full-channeled gouges, rods, small chisels, celts, projectile points and plummets. Bifaces are rare, while core tools and unifaces are more common. Chipped stone tools are made predominantly from local raw materials. A large charred and calcined faunal collection indicates that a wide variety of fauna was exploited, including large and small mammals, anadromous and catadromous fish species, and unidentified species of bird, turtle, and snake. Other New England sites with important early Holocene components include the Blackman Stream site (Sanger et al. 1992) and Ellsworth Falls (Byers 1959) in Maine, and the Eddy site (Bunker 1992) and Wadleigh Falls (Maymon and Bolian 1992) in New Hampshire.

Early and Middle Archaic in the Maritime

The archaeological evidence for the Early and Middle Archaic in the Maritime Provinces was recently reexamined and found to have a close affinity to the Gulf of Maine Tradition (Murphy 1998). Murphy identified 122 artifacts from more than 30 site collections in the region. His model suggests a similar material culture, including ground stone full-channeled gouges and rods, a paucity of bifaces, quartz core and uniface flake technology, bone and antler technology, and specialized mortuary artifacts (1998:95). Site locations suggest an interior lacustrine and riverine settlement pattern, while coastal occupation cannot be ruled out. Murphy also suggests a variable subsistence pattern based on terrestrial mammals, anadromous and catadromous fish species, and sea mammals.

Gaspereau Lake Site

As part of his reexamination of archaeological collections from the Maritimes, Murphy (1998:39-60) reinterpreted the materials recovered by John Erskine (1998:16-40) at the Gaspereau Lake site. This site is located a the lake outlet to Gaspereau River, about 27 km. from the mouth of the river at Minas Basin. The lake was dammed in 1921, so that the current water level is unnaturally high and the site is submerged most of the year. Erskine excavated the site in the late fall of 1965. He discovered that the site consisted of a series occupation floors with numerous, sometimes overlapping, hearth features. Murphy discovered that Erskine's early component for the Gaspereau Lake site was very similar to the Middle Archaic component of the Sharrow site. The Gaspereau Lake materials includes the bit end of a full-channeled gouge, two rods, three preplummets, and an spearthrower weight. The chipped stone assemblage includes two "Stark-like" projectile points, flakes, choppers, and scrapers. Erskine interpreted the site as a small hunting/fishing camp.

Drowned Sites

Over the last 15 years evidence has been amassing for drowned coastal sites in the Gulf or Maine and Bay of Fundy, and off the coast of Prince Edward Island. Underwater research has been limited, but numerous artifacts have been recovered by scallop draggers. The size and shape of the mesh scallop bags means that only large artifacts will be recovered in this manner. A biface and plummet recovered by draggers off the shore of Eastern Blue Hill Bay, Maine, are believed to date to the Late Paleoindian and Early or Middle Archaic periods (Crock et al. 1993). Draggers have also brought up artifacts off the shore of Mount Desert Island, including three large bifaces, one made from Kineo rhyolite, and three plummets (Crock et al. 1993). The Penobscot Bay site is located under about eight meters of water off the eastern end of Deer Island, Maine. Artifacts recovered by divers and draggers at this site include an ulu, ground stone adzes and biface fragments, and these are believed to date to the Middle and early Late Archaic (Stright 1990:439). Two large ridged ulus have been recovered in Passamaquoddy Bay (Black and Turnbull 1988), two from nine nautical miles off Digby Neck, Nova Scotia (Davis 1991), and one other from off the northeastern coast of Prince Edward Island (Keenlyside 1984). A large stemmed slate knife has also been recovered 15 nautical miles off of Digby Neck (Anonymous 1989). A full-channeled Archaic gouge was recently recovered off Indian Island, between Deer Island and Campobello Island, Passamaquoddy Bay, by marine biologists dragging for scallop samples (Black 1996). Virtually all of these materials are believed to pre-date the Late Archaic period on the Maritime Peninsula, and seem to lend support to Tuck's hypothesis of continual coastal occupation.


1989 Archaeologist Studies Relics from "Nova Scotian Atlantis". The Evening Telegram (January 14):56.

Black, D. W.
1997 A Native Artifact from the Ocean Floor near Indian Island. Fieldnotes: The Newsletter of the New Brunswick Archaeological Society 3(2):5-7.

Bunker, V.
1992 Stratified Components of the Gulf of Maine Tradition at the Eddy Site, Amoskeag falls. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 135-148. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Byers, D. S.
1959 The Eastern Archaic: Some Problems and Hypotheses. American Antiquity 24(3):233-256.

Crock, J. G., J. B. Petersen, and R. Anderson
1993 Scalloping for Artifacts: A Biface and Plummet from Eastern Blue Hill Bay, Maine. Archaeology of Eastern North America 21:179-192.

Davis, S. A.
1991 Yarmouth County Survey. In Archaeology in Nova Scotia, 1987 and 1988, edited by S. A. Davis, C. Lindsay, R. Ogilvie, and B. Preston, pp. 69-88. Nova Scotia Museum, Curatorial Report 69. Halifax.

Deal, M., and D. Rutherford
1991 The Distribution and Diversity of Nova Scotian Archaic Sites and Materials: A Re-examination. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association, St. John's.

Dincauze, D. F.
1993 Antecedents and Ancestors at Last. Review of Early Holocene Occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson and J. Petersen. The Review of Archaeology 14(2):12-22.

Erskine, J. S.1998 Memoirs on the Prehistory of Nova Scotia, 1957-1967. Edited by M. Deal. Nova Scotia Museum, Special Report. Halifax.

Keenlyside, D. L.
1984 "Ulus" and Spearpoints; Two New Archaeological Finds from Prince Edward Island. The Island Magazine (16):25-27.

Maymon, J. H., and C. E. Bolian
1992 The Wadleigh Falls Site: An Early and Middle Archaic Period Site in Southeastern New Hampshire. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 117-134. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Murphy, B. M.
1998 Researching the Early Holocene of the Maritime Provinces. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Petersen, J. B.
1991 Archeological Testing at the Sharrow Site: A Deeply Stratified Early to Late Holocene Cultural Sequence in Central Maine. Occasional Publications in Maine Archaeology, No. 8. Maine Archaeological Society and Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Petersen, J. B., and D. E. Putnam
1992 Early Holocene Occupation in the Central Gulf of Maine Region. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 13-62. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Robinson, B.
1992 Early and Middle Archaic Period Occupation in the Gulf of Maine Region: Mortuary and Technological Patterning. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 63-116. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Robinson, B., and J. B. Petersen
1992 Early Holocene Occupation in the Central Gulf of Maine Region. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 1-12. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Sanger, D.
1975 Cultural Change as an Adaptive Process in the Maine-Maritimes Region. Arctic Anthropology 12(2):60-75.

1979 Some Thoughts on the Scarcity of Archaeological Sites in Maine Between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago. In Discovering Maine's Archaeological Heritage, edited by D. Sanger, pp. 23-34. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Sanger, D., W. R. Belcher, and D. C. Kellogg
1992 Early Holocene Occupation at the Blackman Stream Site, Central Maine. In Early Holocene occupation in Northern New England, edited by B. Robinson, J. Petersen and A. Robinson, pp. 149-162. Occasional Papers in Maine Archaeology 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta.

Speiss, A. E., B. J. Bourque, and R. M. Gramley
1983 Early and Middle Archaic Site Distribution in Western Maine. North American Archaeologist 4(3):225-243.

Stright, M. J.
1990 Archaeological Sites on the North American Continental Shelf. Geological Society of America, Centennial Special 4:439-465.

Tuck, J. A.
1975 The Northeastern Maritime Continuum: 8000 Years of Cultural Development in the Far Northeast. Arctic Anthropology 12(2):139-147.

1984 Maritime Provinces Prehistory. National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

Turnbull, C. J., and D. W. Black
1988 The slate ulu from White Horse Island. In Bliss Revisited: Preliminary Accounts of the Bliss Islands Archaeology Project, Phase II, edited by D. W. Black, pp. 73-79. New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Recreation and Heritage, Manuscripts in Archaeology 24E. Fredericton.


Back to Course Schedule