Historical research traces Britain's ambitious efforts to survey its North American holdings.
Rolled up and tucked away in a corner of the British Library in London sits a hand-drawn map of the Maine coast, created in the years just before the American Revolution. At a scale of two miles to the inch, it is an extremely detailed rendering of the intricate coastline from Cape Elizabeth to the St. John River. It's big - 10 feet long or more when fully unfurled on a map table.
"It's breathtaking to see," says Stephen Hornsby, a professor of geography and Canadian studies at the University of Maine and the director of UMaine's Canadian-American Center. "Absolutely magnificent. It's part of the heritage of the state, but it's in London. It's unknown in Maine."
9.11 + 10
A decade later, what has changed between 'them' and 'us'?
"Osama bin Laden succeeded in articulating widespread grievances, so for a while at least there was a certain perception of bin Laden as a hero, standing up to the imperialists," says University of Maine anthropologist Henry Munson, who has since the early 1980s studied fundamentalism and religion as they relate to violence, politics and nationalism.
The Very Fiber of Our Being
What's lacking in the modern human diet may have our species at a crossroads.
University of Maine anthropologist Kristin Sobolik argues that you are what you eat - and what your ancestors ate, and what their ancestors ate, and so on, for millennia. For that reason, today's human diet is in a sad state of affairs and, quite frankly, our bodies weren't designed for this.
Reading the ResourcesEcological anthropologist Constanza Ocampo-Raeder looks at the influences of
culture on the natural environment.
Anthropologist Constanza Ocampo-Raeder has traveled to the Peruvian Amazon since
1996 and spent two years living among the Ese eja people. Her research sheds light on the
way cultural traditions influence the management of natural resources.
Coming Up EmptyEconomic anthropologist James Acheson studies the effect of humans on the marine resources.
The effect of humans on the marine resources- from overfishing to policymaking - is undeniable,
controversial and little-understood. And that's where economic anthropologist James Acheson comes in.
Agents of ChangeArchaeologist Greg Zaro studies the roles humans and climate play in transforming Peru's coast.
Peru's southern coast features steep, barren terrain, often shrouded in dense fog. Up until 600
years ago, the coastal hills and nearby canyon, Quebrada Chololo, were agricultural sites. It would be easy to blame local smelter plants for the subsequent desertification, says University of Maine anthropologist Greg Zaro. But the reality is such a process usually has human and nonhuman causes.
Carved in StoneNortheastern archaeologist Brian Robinson and tribal experts collaborate to save Maine's rare
petroglyphs on Machias Bay.
Many of the images created by the Passamaquoddy ancestors can be
interpreted from the oral traditions of the Wabanaki and broadly distributed Algonquian
people. Some of the most recent depict sailing ships.
A University of Maine graduate student has discovered evidence of the oldest identifiable domestic dog in the Americas.
Samuel Belknap III, a graduate research assistant working under the direction of Kristin Sobolik in UMaine's Department of Anthropology and Climate Change Institute, found a 9,400-year-old skull fragment of a domestic dog during analysis of an intact human paleofecal sample.
The fact that the bone was found in human waste provides the earliest proof that humans in the New World used domesticated dogs as food sources.
"This is an important scientific discovery that can tell us not only a lot about the genetic history of dogs but of the interactions between humans and dogs in the past," said Belknap."Not only were they most likely companions as they are today, they served as protection, hunting assistants, and also as a food source."
Belknap's discovery will first be documented in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology as well as other scientific journals.
At the time Belknap found the bone, he had not set out to discover anything new about ancient animals, but was instead conducting his thesis research on ancient diet and nutrition of humans during the Holocene Era in the Lower Pecos Region of Texas.
"I didn't start out looking for the oldest dog in the New World," Belknap said. "I started out trying to understand human diet in southwest Texas. It so happens that this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog. It just goes to show that sometimes, great scientific discoveries come not when we are looking for specific answers but when we are thorough we are in our examination of the evidence and open to what data it provides."
He discovered the bone, known as BE-20, during the 2009-2010 academic school year while examining a paleofecal sample recovered in the 1970s from Hinds Cave, a major archeological site in southwest Texas near the Mexico border.
Belknap and fellow UMaine graduate student Robert Ingraham first visually identified the bone as a fragment of the right occipital condyle, the place where the skull articulates with the atlas vertebra of the spine. Ingraham also visually identified the bone at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, which indicated that the fragment closely matched that of a short-nosed Indian Dog from New Mexico.
The bone was then sent to University of Oklahoma researcher Cecil Lewis, who runs the Molecular Anthropology Ancient DNA Laboratory, for DNA analysis. The DNA analysis from the lab, along with a 2002 genetic study of archaeological dog specimens, supported the conclusion that BE-20 is from a domestic dog rather than a wolf, coyote or fox, and is closely related to a species of Peruvian dog.
Visually, the bones of dogs, wolves, coyotes and foxes appear to be similar, but the domestic dog has evolved to have a different genetic makeup. The origin of the domestic dog is believed to be from a species of Eurasian wolf that likely crossed the Bering land bridge into North America during the peopling of the New World.
The age of the bone and fecal material was confirmed by directly dating the sample using Accelerated Mass Spectrometric Radiocarbon Dating.
Direct dating is crucial to the discovery, Belknap said.
"For a long time there were several dog bones from Jaguar Cave in Idaho that were believed to be over 11,000 years old, but once they were directly dated they were found to be only 1,000 to 3000 years old," he said."So it's a cautionary tale of the need to directly date things. It's important to do it."
Although 9,400 years is considered ancient in the Americas, the remains of domesticated dogs in Europe have been identified to be well in excess of 10,000 years old.
Belknap said based on the size of the bone, which was about a centimeter-and-a-half long and one centimeter across, the dog might have been 25-30 pounds.
Belknap also found in the same paleofecal sample what is believed to be a sesamoid bone of a dog foot, but the fragment is too small for analysis.
Belknap's find also provides the earliest direct evidence for dog as a source of food for human consumption. According to ethnographic studies, dogs were consumed either in times of desperation or times of celebration. Dogs were butchered in a specific way and may have been cooked in a stew, which could explain how bones from a skull and wrist or ankle ended up in the same paleofecal sample.
"It could be that the smaller bones broke off in the butchering process and found their way into a stew or soup," Belknap said.
Although it is known that dogs were also treated with the same kind of reverence with which we associate them today - domestic dogs have been found buried whole at sites from around the same era, which indicates they were held in some sort of regard - it is unknown whether this particular dog was viewed as a sort of pet, used as a form of security, or raised for a food source.
Anthropology Undergraduates Participate in Exciting Research
Laura Labbe studied soil samples in Peru. Jessica Sleeth searched for archaeological remains in Machias Bay. And Jamie Wren separates animal bones in the University of Maine Zooarchaelogy Lab.
Research opportunities are keeping UMaine anthropology students busy and happy, enriching their classes, allowing them to see how anthropologists work, and helping them decide on a career.
Students said they are grateful to UMaine for providing these unique and exciting activities to them as undergraduates. They were pleasantly surprised at how accessible the opportunities were."All I had to do was ask," said Laura Labbe '10 who spent a month in the summer of '08 in Ilo, on the southern coast of Peru, working with anthropology Professor Gregory Zaro. Their job was to test the soil for metals associated with copper smelting to see whether there had been industrial activity in the area during the last 1,000 years and whether that activity may have had an impact on the desertification of the region.
"People at the anthropology department were very enthusiastic and went out of their way to help me find a research opportunity that would allow me to experience first-hand the entire scientific process, from data collection to write-up," said Labbe.
The work was hard, but fascinating."Each morning at 7 a.m. we'd get in our old Datsun truck and then drive 30 minutes to an hour on a bumpy dirt road. We'd hike up to summits so high into the fog that I couldn't see the coast even though it was less than a mile away. We collected soil samples along the stretch of coast at three different elevation levels. Back at the apartment we separated the samples and weighed and labeled them. We had to bring all this dirt back into the U.S., so we had to make sure everything was properly recorded."
When Labbe returned to UMaine she learned how to separate the soil samples in the Sawyer Environmental Chemistry Research Lab. She and Professor Zaro plan to write a paper about their research and subsequent results.
"This opportunity opened up so many doors for me and helped me grow as a person," said Labbe "I got to see first-hand the work of anthropologists and be part of a great team. I gained a level of independence that I know I only could have gained by working in a foreign country alongside professionals."
After participating in UMaine's Machias Bay Archaeological Field School last summer, Jessica Sleeth '11 said she is "more sure than ever that archaeology is something I really can do as a career."
Held at sites associated with prehistoric rock engravings, the field school is directed by professors Brian Robinson and Lisa Neuman, and conducted in cooperation with the Passamaquoddy Petroglyph Project.
"We looked for remnants of weapons and tools, trying to see if there was evidence of native American and European cohabitation in the 17th century," said Sleeth, who was among about a dozen students who participated in the field school based at the University of Maine at Machias.
"Each of us had our own assigned area to excavate with trowels. We'd lie on our stomachs, digging down around two feet. We found a number of 'flakes', which are basically chips of stone that come off when people were trying to make a projectile point. We also found a number of bifaces - preformed blades with two worked sides."
One of the reasons she chose to attend UMaine was because it offered a variety of hands-on research opportunities to undergraduates, said Sleeth. "The anthropology department is really good about getting the word out both in class and through email. It's a fantastic opportunity. You get college credit and it's free, so that was another bonus."
When he first came to UMaine, Jamie Wren thought he wanted to teach high school history.
"Then I took an introductory course in anthropology with Dr. Kristin Sobolik, and I ended up falling in love with the subject," said the sophomore who promptly changed his major to anthropology. He spends 15-20 hours each week in the zooarchaeology lab in South Stevens Hall, helping catalogue animal specimens brought in by professors, archaeologists, researchers, law enforcement officials, community residents, and others.
"I take the animal remains, boil them down, and remove their bones which I then clean, label, and catalogue, so that they may be accessioned to the collection. We'll use them when we need to identify bones and animal remains from archaeological sites."
"I feel really lucky that I have this opportunity - it will help me carve out my future career," said Wren, who has been enlisted to help UMaine's forensic anthropologist Professor Marcella Sorg open a new lab in South Stevens Hall for teaching and for work she does as a consultant for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
"I'll help organize the lab, make it functional for everyday use, and develop a system to catalogue skeletons," Wren said.
MAPI Field School Makes Summer Plans
The University of Maine's Summer Archaeological Field School is making plans for its fourth summer research experience on the coast of Maine.
Created through a Maine Academic Prominence Initiative (MAPI) grant, the four-week field school provides hands-on archaeological opportunities for students, contributes to an understanding of Maine's past, and strengthens the relationship between the University of Maine and the Wabanaki Tribes.
Field school participants, who are focusing currently on the Machias Bay area, bunk at the University of Maine at Machias residence halls and eat most of their meals at UMM. They spend the month of June excavating shell middens for bits of animal bones, clam shells, stone flakes and plant remains. In the same area, the Passamaquoddy are directing research on the rich rock art - or petroglyphs. These petroglyphs include shaman representations of humans, animals, and even 17th century depictions of European ships. The goal is for students and the Passamaquoddy to learn together about past activities and lifestyles to increase connections with the present.
The decision to work on coastal shell middens is influenced by climate change and the loss of coastal sites to collecting and development, according to anthropology Professor Brian Robinson, who directs the field school along with Professor Lisa Neuman, an expert in Native American Studies. "Because of the rising sea level, the shell middens are being washed away and the petroglyphs - which comprise the largest collection of rock art on the east coast - are eroding. We're quickly losing this part of Native culture."
The artifacts are like pieces of a puzzle, Professor Robinson said. "In the 17th century, Machias Bay was occupied by French fur traders as well as the Passamaquoddy Indians. In the remains of houses, we found pipe bowls, European and Native pottery, stone tool workshops, lead bullets, gun flints, iron knives, and beads. This indicates that the two peoples lived near each other and traded, but it is a considerable challenge to sort out the precise kinds of interactions, what activities occurred at the same time, and how long a period of time the activities span."
While all the discoveries are important, some are particularly exciting. "We found spearheads made by the Passamaquoddy that are of excellent quality - they're large and exceedingly thin. They're some of the finest stone work I've ever seen, and it's possible they were made as late as the 17th century," said Professor Robinson.
"The MAPI field school is an innovative model of how partnerships can be built between the University and Maine's Wabanaki communities for mutual benefit," said Professor Neuman. "It is vital that these kinds of models exist so that Native and non-Native students, scholars, and community members can work together to better understand Maine's past and to help train culturally-sensitive archaeologists for the future."
"It's not just about hard work," she pointed out ."It's a lot of fun, too! One of my favorite memories from the 2009 season was seeing students greet one of the pods of playful seals that came close to one of the dig sites located right at the ocean's edge."
Student Heather Omand '10, who participated in the 2009 field school, called the experience "amazing".
"We found projectile points, ceramics... something new every day. It was really incredible."
The field school was one of the highlights of their time at UMaine, participants said. They appreciated the opportunity to obtain hands-on archaeological experience and to work closely with members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and learn more about Maine's Native people. They made new friends and came away with a better understanding of Maine's history. Their field school experience even prompted some to decide they wanted to be archaeologists! They were grateful that their expenses were covered and that they were able to earn academic credit. And they enjoyed the side trips to Bar Harbor's Abbe Museum, which features extensive collections of Native artifacts, and to the visitor's center at St. Croix Island, one of the earliest European settlements in North America.
"It's great when students can visit collections which house artifacts similar to the ones they're finding at the site," said Rob Ingraham, graduate student and teaching assistant. "They recognize forms and patterns in the artifacts and get all fired up again. Next day, they're chomping at the bit to get back to the site."
Field school participants, who make sure to stay away from sacred sites and human remains, work hard and learn to keep meticulous records. "After a half hour walk into the site, we spend from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the field," said Professor Robinson. "Then we process the materials at night. The students do all the excavating with a trowel, lying on their stomachs or hanging over pits which can be one or two feet deep. They have to quantify in a detailed way the distribution of all the tiny remains. We excavate in 50-centimeter units and we keep track of everything in each unit at every 5 centimeter level. The artifacts then are separated into brown paper bags, labeled, and brought back to South Stevens Hall at UMaine.
" Rebecca Morton '10, said her 2009 field school participation "allowed me to actually experience what I had been learning about in the classroom."
"Most people don't get that opportunity until they graduate. For me, that was priceless."
Students' work doesn't end when the four weeks are over. Participants spend the next academic year examining the bucketfuls of soil they brought back from Machias Bay. They sift the soil through fine screens and then record their findings.
The lab work is part of the fun, Heather Omand said. "I examine the soil under a microscope and separate the rocks from the good stuff. I take out the burned animal bone, charcoal, and flakes from projectile points. I count the items and then I weigh them."
Machias Bay Field School research is prompting archaeologists and historians to see early Maine settlers in a whole new light, said Ingraham.
"It's changing what we knew about the interaction between the Passamaquoddy and the European settlers. And it's changing the way we understand animal remains in the northeast and the way we study them. It's a long string of small discoveries that enhance the larger picture. The best feeling is working on something for a couple of weeks and then having that aha! moment where it all comes together.
"I'm absolutely blown away by the work the students do," he continued. "We tell them what to look for and why everything has to be carefully recorded, and everyone puts in their best efforts and manages to produce some fantastic work. They do a great job digging in flat, square segments, trimming the roots, and making sure the walls are perfectly straight and the corners are sharp. They do most of their work simply by eyeballing the area. It's a real skill to be able to shape the dirt in this way."
Making sure her excavation site was in good shape became a source of pride for Rebecca Morton. "Photographic records are very important in archaeology so we needed to make sure the pits were in the best possible condition," she said. "It was very labor intensive, but it was one of those tasks that was really worthwhile."
Students are well prepared for a real world field situation thanks to classes such as "Lab Techniques in Prehistoric Archaeology" and "Fundamentals of Archaeology," which provide a solid base for the student archaeologist going into the field for the first time, said Sam Belknap, graduate student and teaching assistant.
"In these classes students not only learn to think like an archaeologist but to work like one. They learn proper excavation and record keeping techniques, how to interpret archaeological materials, and what to do with the material after it is excavated."
Students' enthusiasm is contagious, he added. "People get really excited and it re-invigorates you! There's something special about holding an artifact in your hands that no one has touched in thousands of years."
One of the most important aspects of the field school is the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the Passamaquoddy, said Professor Robinson. Some of the UMaine students who participate in the field school are members of the tribe. And experts from the Passamaquoddy community present lectures about the history and the significance of the petroglyphs.
"It's always more fun working on problems with the people you're actually studying," he said.
The Forensic Anthropology Laboratory is the center for conducting research on human osteology, bioarchaeology, forensics, and taphonomy. The lab is also the focal point for training undergraduate and graduate students in the major methods and techniques used in forensics. Research and training is designed to prepare students in the analysis human remains in forensic, modern, and prehistoric situations with a particular eye toward taphonomic assessment. The forensic laboratory contains an extensive comparative human skeletal collection representing individuals from fetal to older adult as well as males and females. The lab is currently being developed and will be equipped with the necessary tools with which to conduct modern forensic analyses.
The Forensic Anthropology Lab is directed by Dr. Marcella Sorg.
The Northeastern Prehistory Lab in South Stevens Hall is the center of research and analysis of archaeological remains from prehistoric Maine and the Maritimes. Research on materials excavated more recently are compared with remains recovered in the past to develop broad-based ideas on the prehistory of Maine and the Northeast, and how these people lived and interacted with each other and with surrounding groups. The lab is one of three Federal Repositories of Archaeological material in Maine, and contains extensive collections developed by a number of researchers for over four decades.
The lab contains an extensive collection of prehistoric Northeastern artifacts spanning the temporal range from 12,000 years ago up to the more historic present. The lab has storage space, analysis space, a wet lab, flint knapping room, and a dark room. The collections are overseen by a Laboratory Manager.
Projects carried out in the Northeastern Prehistory Lab include:
- Analysis of all remains excavated during the UMaine Archaeological Fieldschool held at the Passamaquoddy Petroglyph Site near Machias.
- Comparative research of current UMaine fieldschool materials to those excavated from past fieldschools to generate a broader understanding of temporal and spatial Maine prehistory.
- Research on the Bull Brook Site in Massachusetts to better understand Paleoindian settlement and migratory patterns.
- Comparative analyses of seasonality indicators from coastal versus inland sites in the northeast to determine migratory patterns, group affinity, and resource use in prehistory.
The Northeastern Prehistory Lab is directed by Dr. Brian Robinson.
The Zooarchaeology Laboratory is the center for training undergraduate and graduate students in the major methods and techniques used in archaeological faunal analysis. Research and training is designed to prepare students in the analysis of animal remains from archaeological sites, and from these analyses infer past lifeways, paleo-environments, and prehistoric human adaptations. The zooarchaeology laboratory contains an extensive modern comparative skeletal collection of northeastern and southwestern fauna. The lab is equipped with the necessary tools with which to conduct faunal research, including a fume hood, Nikon microscopes, computers and spaced for analyses and storage. Projects currently being conducted in the lab:
- Paleonutrition - analyses of prehistoric diet, health, and nutrition is a constant theme of research conducted in the lab. Currently, we are analyzing bones, botanical remains, pollen, and DNA from southwestern Texas paleofeces to determine ancient diet and diseases, sex differences, and migratory patterns.
- Prehistoric Northeastern Adaptations - analyses of faunal remains from coastal Maine shell midden sites to determine prehistoric animal use as they relate to diet, migratory patterns, and prehistoric land use.
- Zoogeography Project of Maine - analysis of the prehistoric faunal record to map migrations and extinctions of extant and extinct species through time and across space in prehistoric Maine and the maritime Provinces.
- Southwestern Zooarchaeology - analysis of faunal remains from Singuan, Anasazi, and Big Bend, Texas archaeological sites to determine changes in prehistoric land use, diet, and migrations through time.
The Zooarchaeology Lab is directed by Dr. Catherine West
The Latin American Archaeology Lab is dedicated to the investigation of the human past among Mesoamerican and Andean South American societies. This includes, but is not limited to, pre-European complex civilizations of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile; the impact of European colonization on indigenous populations; and the manners in which human societies past and present manipulate their physical surroundings, and the impact of their 'legacies' in contemporary landscapes of Latin America.
Students in the lab are involved in a variety of activities that include:
- Processing ancient agricultural soils to understand the impact of indigenous and Spanish colonial farming strategies of southern Peru on long-term soil chemical development.
- GIS spatial analysis of changes in land use and resource management in southern Peru over the past one thousand years.
- Iconographic analysis of ancient Maya polychrome cylindrical vessels from the Palmer Collection housed at UMaine's Hudson Museum.
The Latin American Archaeology Lab is directed by Dr. Greg Zaro.
The South American Archaeology Lab in South Stevens Hall constitutes the primary work space for a growing team of researchers investigating the quaternary and human prehistory of South America. The lab contains two computers (Mac and PC), Geographic Information System software, flatbed photo and slide scanners, a printer, two microscopes, an extensive library of archaeological and quaternary science books and journals, and an archive of South American maps and air photos. The lab also houses a robust malacological reference collection and selected archaeological materials from UMaine excavations on loan from Peru. Aside from regular research functions, the lab is used for the preparation of archaeological materials for rock provenance studies, prehistoric artifact analyses, and archival preparation.
Projects carried out in the South American Archaeology Lab include:
- Analyzing ancient shells and bones to decipher the of prehistoric Peruvians;
- Using the same remains as clues to climatic conditions of the past, such as the prehistory of El Niño;
- Working with artifacts and geological samples of obsidian and other stones to reconstruct technology and track down the very places ancient people visited to get their raw material; and
- Processing digital data in a Geographic Information System to model early human behavior across the landscapes of Andean South America.
Each of these projects grows out of extensive field work by UMaine researchers in South America—our teams launch one or more expeditions every year to gather new information about ancient Americans and their world.
The South American Archaeology Lab is directed by Dr. Dan Sandweiss.