Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Limits of History

Everyone has a history. A birth certificate proves my existence since 4/7/1951. My town of Lovell, Maine was incorporated in 1800. Some settlers prior to 1800 kept diaries. Indians lived here but they didn’t record much. European colonists wrote of who and what they saw when they arrived but not until about four hundred years ago in these parts. Darby Field came through Fryeburg in 1642 and described Pequawket (or Pigwacket) — the Indian village existing there at the time. Everything before then is prehistoric by definition. Earliest human records anywhere go back only five thousand years. We consult archaeologists for anything earlier.

Other Abenaki subclassifications 

They tell us people have been around here for about eleven thousand years, maybe longer. No artifacts that old have been found in Lovell or Fryeburg yet but probably will be someday. To the west, a beautiful spearpoint from that era was picked up near the scenic overlook in Intervale, NH around 1888. To the east artifacts approximately that old were discovered near the Lewiston/Auburn airport in the 1980s. To the north, even older artifacts were discovered near Lake Aziscohos in Maine, and to the south near the Ossipee River in NH.

The only professional archaeological dig so far conducted in Fryeburg was six-day effort in July, 2009 by Arthur Spiess and his team from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Results of that have not yet been published, but the site is thought to be from what’s called the Woodland Period. That goes back only three thousand years at most, and what was found is probably younger than that. It was only two miles from my house as the crow flies and some of my students participated.

Some of the John Gray collection

Amateurs have collected artifacts in the Fryeburg area over the years including Eve Barbour, Benjamin Newman, John Gray, and others. The queen of them all, however, was the late Helen Leadbeater of Fryeburg Village. Her studies and explorations seem to have been her principal occupation for over twenty years from the 1950s to the 1970s. When I retired from teaching in 2011, Helen’s son, Arizona Zipper, gave me access to both her artifacts and her records. With the assistance of Fryeburg’s Diana Bell, I spent three weeks photographing her extensive collection while Diana scanned her maps, notes, and journals.

Helen Leadbeater

Helen not only collected, she read everything available on Indians in Maine and New Hampshire, especially those along the Saco River. If she heard about a find, she chased it down and either verified it or debunked it. She got permission from private landowners to explore their property. She kept extensive notes and drew very good maps. Many of her thousands of artifacts are individually labelled and she sketched them as well.

She was especially knowledgeable of ceramics, which go back three thousand years in the Upper Saco River Valley. She published an article on her local ceramic research in the Maine Archaeological Society Journal. She reassembled an entire pot from fragments she found in Fryeburg and donated it to the Maine State Museum (MSM) in Augusta where it remains on display. Another of my former students, Bill Rombola, published a description of all her artifacts in the same journal while he was attending the University of Southern Maine. Senior archaeologists in both Maine and New Hampshire came to Fryeburg to see her collection. So did two other professional archaeologists with whom I’ve spoken. They told me they hope it’s eventually donated to the Maine State Museum.

Mike Gramly, a former director there, especially coveted one of Helen’s artifacts called a “banner stone,” because the MSM doesn’t have one. Trouble is, the piece was found just over the state line in Center Conway. It’s a curious piece with a hole in the middle and wings on the sides and resembles a wing nut. They’re found all over the country and sometimes called “butterfly stones.” It’s function is thought to be as a weight for a spear thrower called an atl-atl — a device, probably wooden, that would give the thrower leverage to throw a spear further and with more force. Other archaeologists dispute this use of the curious bannerstone and claim it must serve some other purpose. 

When time permits, I explore some of the sites Helen identified, but few are plowed and harrowed anymore so surface collecting isn’t possible. She and Eve Barbour would dig but I won’t — not since someone explained to me that, if I did, I’d be obligated to do more. I’d have to have a hypothesis. I’d have to use tedious archaeological technique allowing only the use of a trowel and screen in small test pits, and I’d have to publish my results. All this would require time I do not have, so ethics require that I leave it all in the ground for those who do.

1 comment:

Uber_Fritz said...

Since I am not originally from the area, your local history lesson was detailed and enlightening. Thank you!