Peopling of Maine Virtual Tour Video Transcript


Voice of Narrator: Welcome to the Hudson Museum on the University of Maine campus. The Hudson Museum galleries display objects from all over the world featuring the cultural heritage of places as far away as Africa and China, as well as collections that display the unique artistic traditions of Maine’s Wabanaki peoples. In this tour, we will discuss University of Maine research into the more distant past of the very land upon which the museum sits today.

Maine’s Glacial History

Voice of Narrator: About 35,000 years ago, the Laurentide Continental Ice Sheet covered all of Canada, Greenland, and the northern United States, extending past the coastline and 400 miles into the Gulf of Maine. As glaciers advance, they exert a huge amount of pressure pushing and pulling anything in their paths. The glaciers that covered Maine scraped away many features of the landscape, leaving grooves and striations on cobbles such as these,

Visual: Two rounded gray cobbles sit on a platform.  They are covered in scratches oriented largely in the same direction.

Voice of Narrator: found in Bangor, and on the very bedrock of our state. The next time you are near the shore, look for striations like these on bedrock outcrops.

Somewhere between 21,000 and 18,000 years ago, the ice sheet began to retreat. The enormous weight of the ice had pushed down the continent, and ocean waters followed the retreating ice. By 13,000 years ago, most of coastal Maine was beneath ocean waters. Eventually, the land rebounded and the ocean retreated, leaving behind the Presumpscot Formation of marine clay.

Visual: Two objects sit on a platform. On the right is a large chunk of clay with mussel shells. On the left is a portion of a tooth approximately the size of a human hand.

Voice of Narrator: This is a chunk of that marine clay with mussel shells found in a gravel pit in Bangor and is a legacy of a time when this area was beneath the waves. This process also set the stage for the formation of the Orono bog. This fragment of walrus tusk was found right here in Orono. The walrus is an arctic and subarctic marine species. Its presence shows us that even though the glaciers were melting, Maine remained in an arctic or subarctic climate during this period.

Visual: Two small tan butterflies in an insect display case followed by a basket with tan and black patterns and including a small ash butterfly on the cover.

Voice of Narrator: By 11,000 years ago, areas of Maine finally emerged ice and water free and only a small portion of the glacier remained. The Katahdin Arctic butterfly is our final holdover from Maine’s icy past, left stranded on the highest peaks of the great mountain as the glaciers retreated. This butterfly is an endangered species and is only found in the tundra environment around Katahdin. If you’d like to learn more about the Katahdin Arctic butterfly, look for the link below this video.

Visual: A large black molar sits on a platform.

Voice of Narrator: Maine’s post-glacial landscape featured tundra vegetation and late Pleistocene animal species, including mammoths and mastodons.

The Paleoindian Period (13,000 – 11,000 years ago)

Visual: A long stone projectile point with an indented bottom edge.

Voice of the Narrator: The retreat of the glaciers and the return of plant and animal life coincided with the earliest archaeological evidence of the peopling of Maine. Archeologists call this the Paleoindian Period. The few plant and animal remains preserved in archaeological sites from this period show us that by around 12,000 years ago, these earliest peoples were hunting big game such as caribou, and gathering plant resources such as berries. The types of plants typically found in cleared areas today like bunch berries and brambles such as raspberries and blackberries were common. Evidence from this period is scarce however, and it is likely that they used a much wider range of resources.

Visual: A photograph of a gravel mine showing sand and rocks  remaining in the side of a partially-destroyed hill.

Voice of Narrator: These early archaeological sites tend to be located on well-drained high spots, probably the few dry places in a landscape dominated by rivers and ponds of glacial meltwater. Paleoindian sites are rare, and few are found because these landforms have been mined for sand and gravel.

Released from the weight of the ice, the land rose and sea level dropped to its lowest point about 250 feet, or 75 meters, below present sea level. Unfortunately, this means any early settlements along the coast are now underwater, since as the last of the ice melted into the world’s oceans, sea level rose to its present height.

Archaic Period (10,000 – 3,000 years ago)

Voice of Narrator: At around 10,000 years ago, the kinds of artifacts found in archaeological sites in Maine change, and we enter the Archaic Period, the longest and most complex period in the pre-contact history of our state.

Visual: A split-screen with the large, indented-base point previously described on the right.  On the left is a collection of projectile points, some are long, narrow, and have been formed through flaking, and others have been ground smooth.

Voice of Narrator: One example of this is the change in projectile point styles. Paleoindian points are large and intricately knapped. In the Archaic Period, projectile points are somewhat smaller and come in a wider variety of shapes, including some with side notches, and even some ground from slate. These smaller points would have been attached to a shaft making a “dart” that would have been thrown using a tool called an atlatl or spear-thrower.

Visual: A number of stone objects in a display.  These include objects shaped like small pears and others shaped like large chisels or gouges.

Voice of Narrator: The landscape of Maine during this period would look more familiar to us today, with many of the plants and animals we see around us. Archaeological sites from this period are found along the edges of major waterways and lake shores. With forests spreading across the landscape such open waters would have been the most convenient means of transportation. Ground-stone tools such as adzes, celts, and gouges, used for woodworking, and pecking stones and rods, used to make and maintain ground stone tools, are common in Archaic Period sites.

The location of sites along major waterways and the appearance of woodworking artifacts such as gouges have led archaeologists to believe that the people living in Maine during this period were making and using dugout canoes. Water resources also provided much of the food during this period. People fished and hunted or trapped beaver and muskrat found in wetlands left behind by the melting glaciers of the previous period. Plummets are another type of ground-stone tool common in archaic period sites, and archeologists believe they were used as net weights for fishing.

Susquehanna Tradition (3,600 – 3,000 years ago)

Voice of Narrator: At the end of the Archaic Period the artifacts suddenly change again, and a new set of artifacts begin to appear in archaeological sites across Maine. These artifacts are associated with the Susquehanna tradition, named after the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, where this assemblage was first identified in the north.

Visual: Two projectile points in a display. They are wide with simple narrowed bases.

Voice of Narrator: The most distinctive of these is the Broadpoint, which may have been a projectile point or a knife.

Visual: A stone ground into a narrow wedge at one end and with a groove ground around the middle next to a small, narrow, flaked stone tool.

Voice of Narrator: Axes and drills also suggest Susquehanna peoples were working with wood, however since wood does not preserve well it is hard to know what they were building.

Archaeologists are still debating what this sudden change in what they call “material culture” means. Could this change be due to the sudden arrival of different people? Or did something make the people living in Maine suddenly start using different tools? Or, could it have been a combination of the two?

One thing that does seem clear is that the people using these artifacts were using the landscape in different ways than before. For example, while Archaic Period peoples used considerable aquatic resources, fishing and hunting around wetlands, Susquehanna sites show a much greater focus on terrestrial resources, such as deer, moose, and bear, and lack the kinds of artifacts that Archaic Period peoples were using to fish and build canoes.

Ceramic Period (2,800 – 500 years ago)

Visual: First: Two large pieces of fired ceramic that have been reconstructed from smaller fragments.  Both appear to be portions of large bowl-shaped vessels and feature textured decorations on their surfaces. Second: Three small stone projectile points, all made through flaking and with notches on the sides.

Voice of Narrator: The Ceramic Period begins at around 2,800 years ago in Maine and is marked by major innovations, such as pottery for cooking and storage and the bow and arrow for hunting. In other parts of the country, the Ceramic Period is also marked by the beginning of agriculture, but in Maine this new way of life was limited to the area south of the Kennebec River.

Visual: A museum case with a birchbark canoe in front of a large image of people in a canoe.

Voice of Narrator: The Ceramic Period also marks the beginning of a particularly important tradition in Maine – the birch bark canoe. Ceramic Period archaeological sites are found along small waterways and wetlands that would have proved too shallow for heavy dugout canoes, and the heavy ground-stone tools used to build them are not found in this period. Instead, Ceramic Period sites include artifacts such as ceramic fragments and scrapers, used to remove hair and flesh from animal hides.

Visual: A collection of bone tools in a display.  They include two that are barbed for catching fish and marine mammals. Another has been fashioned from an antler.

Voice of Narrator: Sea level was near its modern position at this time, meaning that many coastal sites from this period have been preserved. Shell middens are a special type of archaeological site that forms when people deposit large quantities of marine shell in a single location. The calcium carbonate from the shells helps to preserve organics such as bone, that are poorly preserved at other sites, allowing archaeologists to study the wide variety of bone tools that were used during the Ceramic Period. To learn more about Maine’s coastal shell middens, visit the Hudson Museum’s web page or click the link below this video to see an exclusive online exhibit.

Contact Period (500 years ago)

Voice of Narrator: The first contact between native peoples living in Maine and European explorers took place around 500 years ago and forever changed the material culture of the people living here. In the contact period we see both change and continuity in the way native peoples were living their lives. While hunting had always been an important part of survival, it also became a vital source of furs for trade with European colonists. Trade became increasingly important for survival, as a growing European presence cut off native peoples’ access to their traditional resources. Besides simple exchange of goods, trade also inspired conflict, strained the Wabanaki’s resource base, and influenced political alliances.

Visual: Two clay smoking pipes, one white and one red, and two rectangular stone gun flints.

Voice of Narrator: Archaeological sites from the Contact Period often contain a mix of objects from Europe – such as these clay pipes and gun flints – and from Maine, and often European material have been reworked and put to use in new ways by Native Americans.

Visual: A scrap of a copper pot next to two small tinkling cones made from copper scrap.


Voice of Narrator: Archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology conduct research that sheds light on Maine’s past. Scientists from the Climate Change Institute create models of climate variations and their impacts on humans in the natural world. The research presented here represents their most recent interpretations of the data, often formed in collaboration with members of the Native community. These interpretations change as new finds are made and as Maine continues to be impacted by global climate change.