Whaleback Shell Midden

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Entrance to the State Historic Site.
A gully running through the midden to the Damariscotta River.

Whaleback Shell Midden is a shell midden, or dump, consisting primarily of oyster shells located on the east side of the Damariscotta River in Maine, United States. Other shell middens are located on the estuary in both Damariscotta and Newcastle. The middens in this area were formed over about 1,000 years between 200 BC to AD 1000 (By 1875 oysters that were once abundant were no longer native to New England waters.[1] Wild populations have been established in recent years by the spawn of aquaculture oysters.)[2]

The midden originally had three main layers of shells. In the bottom two layers, individual shells were generally 5–8 inches (10–20 cm) long. These two layers are separated by a layer of soil, and the middle layer is mixed with animal bones. The top layer contains smaller shells. Artifacts unearthed lead scientists to believe that successive tribes of prehistoric people used the area. The top layer was deposited by members of the Abenaki tribes that fished in the area in the summer.[3]

Originally, the Whaleback midden was more than thirty feet deep, more than 1,650 feet in length, and a width varying from 1,320 to 1,650 feet. It got its name from its shape. Only a small portion of this midden remains today as much of it was processed into chicken feed from 1886 to 1891 by the Massachusetts-based Damariscotta Shell and Fertilizer company. Because of this, the Glidden midden, located across the river in Newcastle, is now the largest in Maine and the largest on the U.S. east coast north of Georgia. The area around the remains of the Whaleback is a Maine state historic site, first opened for a full season in 2005, with some historical displays and a hiking trail.[4][5]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Drake, Samuel Adams (1875). Nooks and Corners of the New England Coast. New York: Harper & Brothers.  as seen at Google Books
  2. ^ "Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm". Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm. Retrieved 2006-05-12. 
  3. ^ Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums (1970). Doris A. Isaacson, ed. Maine: A Guide 'Down East'. Rockland, Me: Courier-Gazette, Inc. p. 258. 
  4. ^ "Whaleback Shell Midden". Bureau of Parks and Lands, Department of Conservation, State of Maine. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  5. ^ "Midden comes out of its shell". Outdoors, MaineToday.com. Archived from the original on 2006-05-15. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 

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Coordinates: 44°02′31″N 69°30′47″W / 44.042°N 69.513°W / 44.042; -69.513