Newsom, UMaine students and Wabanaki partners aid effort to protect Acadia’s Indigenous archaeological sites from climate change

Along the rocky shores of Acadia National Park are 24 known archaeological sites that preserve the history and heritage of Wabanaki people. Many of the sites house pottery sherds, tools, animal bones and other artifacts that showcase ancient Indigenous culture from a bygone age. 

Sea level rise, flooding and storms are eroding these sacred and culturally significant places.

The National Park Service (NPS) is launching a new effort to protect Wabanaki archaeological sites in Acadia from climate change using Indigenous and western knowledge and recruited UMaine anthropologist Bonnie Newsom and archaeology Ph.D. students to help.

Using a “two-eyed seeing” approach, Newsom, her students and NPS will devise a co-stewardship strategy to manage and preserve Indigenous archaeological sites in Acadia with members of the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy nations, all of which are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy. The five-year project, which builds on 15 years of collaboration between NPS and Indigenous communities, will involve consultation from tribal historic preservation officers, elders, natural resource caregivers, fluent language speakers and artisans. 

One focus of the new work in Acadia involves protecting millennia-old shell heaps. These deposits of clam shells showcase the culture of the Indigenous people who created them, including what they ate and how they interacted with the environment and each other. The shell heaps, which protect artifacts from Maine’s acidic soil, are being washed away by storms, waves and rising ocean levels.

“Shell heaps are nonrenewable heritage spaces that preserve both cultural and paleoenvironmental information that is unique to the region. Once they are gone, they are gone for good, as is the information they contain,” said Newsom. “A partnership approach to management brings our best collective thinking to the issue and prepares archaeology students for professional futures that include community partnerships and climate change impacts.”

Excerpted from UMaine News