Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prehistory of My Place - Part 1

I want to understand everything, but with a tight travel budget and less than a century of life-expectancy to study, I can only try to understand everything in the area where I live - within, say, a twenty-mile radius of Lovell. I want to know how the mountains formed, how old they are, what’s inside them, and what grows on them. I want to know why the rivers and streams flow as they do, how the lakes and ponds and swamps formed. I want to know what’s under the ground I walk on and how it got there. I want to know why it rains and snows and freezes and thaws as it does, and understand the glaciers that scraped it all. And, I want to know about the people who have lived here since the last time those glaciers melted.

The best guess is that the first people arrived when two-mile-thick glaciers last receded from here in southern Oxford County around 11,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of human activity found so far is in the form of stone tools from approximately 9000 years ago on the shores of Long Lake in Bridgton, as well as Bear Pond in Waterford, Kezar Pond and Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg and in other locations in the Fryeburg area. The earliest evidence of human activity so far discovered in Lovell proper is about 4000 years old along the shore of Kezar Lake.Old Course of Saco River Fryeburg Harbor

One of the most intriguing bits of evidence - though of unknown antiquity - was a skeleton uncovered in the year 2000 near Pleasant Point on Kezar Lake. Norris Bennett was digging a ditch with his backhoe to sink some water lines when he found a human skeleton. It’s rare for bones to survive long in Maine’s acidic soils. My daughter, Annie, was working there at the time and told me a forensic archaeologist guessed that, because of skull’s shape, the bones might be those of an adolescent Indian female. They went to the University of Maine Orono and I’ve heard little about them since.

Last summer I mentioned the skeleton to Dr. Arthur Spiess, Senior Archaeologist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. He’d never heard of it, though he’d been to Lovell on at least two other occasions in the performance of his work. That surprised me, but he indicated that when archaeologists uncover bones likely to be Native American, they usually avoid going any further. He didn’t say much more, but I got the impression that it was because of potential objections from modern Indian groups who would object to people digging up their ancestors.Test Pit in Fryeburg Harbor

It’s questionable whose ancestors they might belong to if the bones should date from 4000-9000 years ago. Little is known for sure about who those people would have been, and any claim they would be ancestors of today’s Abenaki is weak. Evidence that old of human activity in Ireland, for example, is probably not from my Celtic ancestors who seem to have arrived on the Emerald Isle only about 2500 years ago. We simply don’t know much about where those early Lovell residents (or visitors) came from or where they may have gone.

A lot of archaeological research in this area is confidential. I’ve had to promise to keep it that way in order to learn several things and that constrains what I can write here, so I’ll only refer to them obliquely. That goes against my nature, but a promise is a promise.

The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin for Fall, 1998 contained an article by William F. Rombola entitled: “The Ceramic Period in the Upper Saco River Drainage: An Analysis of the Helen Leadbetter Collection.” Helen was the most knowledgeable of the many amateur archaeologists in our area and had the most extensive collection of artifacts found in Fryeburg, Lovell, Bridgton, Hiram, Conway and Ossipee. She was often accompanied by her friend, Eve Barbour, and both have since passed on. Though Rombola’s article focused mostly on Helen’s ceramic artifacts, he included some analysis of her lithic (stone) artifacts as well and those intrigue me most.

Rombola says the oldest artifacts in the Leadbetter collection date from the “Early Archaic Period” which would mean they are among the oldest artifacts found anywhere in Maine so far - 7000-9000 years old. Most are made of hornfels, which Rombola says “is prevalent in New Hampshire and southern Maine” and usually gray/black. Other artifacts are made of material from Mount Jasper in Berlin, NH, from the Moosehead Lake region, the Munsungan Lake region, the Champlain valley, from upstate New York, and several other sources. There was one piece made of the most intriguing material - found only in one location: Ramah Bay in northern Labrador. It’s a material favored by the “Maritime Archaic” or “Red Paint People” who lived in northeastern North America, including northern Labrador, more than 7000 years ago. Though I don’t know where Helen Leadbetter found her one piece, I was very lucky to find a small arrowhead made of Ramah chert last June near the Kezar Lake outlet dam in Fryeburg Harbor.My Ramah Chert Arrowhead

Part 2 next week.


Diane Gurien (Kearsarge) said...

While I often (usually) disagree with Tom McLaughlin on things political, I must offer my hearty kudos for another fascinating, well researched and beautifully documented piece about local history. Thanks, sir.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed it very much. Congratulations on your arrowhead find! I love history!


Ed Parsons said...

Tom, So you found a Labrador chert arrowhead at the Kezar Outlet Bridge?
Amazing. Who verified it and where is it now?

Tom McLaughlin said...

Arthur Speiss - Senior Archaeologist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission verified it. I have it at home.