Whaleback Shell Midden

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Damariscotta Oyster Shell Heaps
Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site - 20070722 07999.JPG
Entrance to state historic site
Whaleback Shell Midden is located in Maine
Whaleback Shell Midden
Whaleback Shell Midden is located in the United States
Whaleback Shell Midden
LocationDamariscotta, Maine
Coordinates44°02′31″N 69°30′47″W / 44.04194°N 69.51306°W / 44.04194; -69.51306Coordinates: 44°02′31″N 69°30′47″W / 44.04194°N 69.51306°W / 44.04194; -69.51306
Area11 acres (4.5 ha)
Part ofDamariscotta Shell Midden Historic District (ID98001238)
NRHP reference No.69000027
Significant dates
Added to NRHPDecember 30, 1969
Designated CPOctober 8, 1998

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. It is preserved as a Maine state historic site and was included as part of the Damariscotta Oyster Shell Heaps listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Other shell middens are located on the estuary in both Damariscotta and Newcastle.[1] The middens in this area were formed over about 1,000 years between 200 BC to AD 1000.

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.[2]

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.

Climate and Culture[edit]

Early people in Maine were significantly influenced by a changing climate around them, a climate that was largely shaped by glaciation. Before the shell midden was created, the Late Wisconsinan Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) covered Maine's landscape 35,000 years ago, extending far into the ocean[3]. As the ice sheet retreated, Maine's climate was undergoing deglaciation about 14.5-11kya[4]. Due to isostatic rebound, sea levels were fluctuating immensely. At the start of the deglaciation, the sea level was much higher inland[5]; the landscape at the time would have resembled northern Alaska. This impacted the culture of people by promoting hunter-gatherer dynamics that could respond more quickly to changing climates. It would be expected that early inhabitants would have roamed around the terrestrial landscapes hunting herds of animals.

State historic site[edit]

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.[6][7]

Oyster culturing[edit]

By 1875 oysters that were once abundant were no longer native to New England waters.[8] Wild populations have been established in recent years by the spawn of aquaculture oysters.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Damariscotta Shell Middens". Davistown Museum. Retrieved December 13, 2015. A compilation of articles and annotations on shell middens in the area.
  2. ^ Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums (1970). Doris A. Isaacson (ed.). Maine: A Guide 'Down East'. Rockland, Me.: Courier-Gazette, Inc. p. 258.
  3. ^ Braun, Duane D. (2016). Guide to the geology of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Braun, Ruth (Geology instructor). Berkeley, California. ISBN 978-1-62317-053-0. OCLC 922836428.
  4. ^ Borns, Harold W. Jr.; Doner, Lisa A.; Dorion, Christopher C.; Jacobson, George L. Jr.; Kaplan, Michael R.; Kreutz, Karl J.; Lowell, Thomas V.; Thompson, Woodrow B.; and Weddle, Thomas K., "The Deglaciation of Maine, USA" (2004). Earth Science Faculty Scholarship. 276.
  5. ^ Kelly, J., Belknap, D., Claesson, S., 2010, Drowned coastal deposits with associated archaeological remains from a sea-level “slowstand”: Northwestern Gulf of Maine, USA, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, Maine
  6. ^ "Whaleback Shell Midden". Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  7. ^ Hoey, Dennis (June 27, 2005). "Midden comes out of its shell". Outdoors, MaineToday.com. Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc. Archived from the original on May 15, 2006. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  8. ^ Drake, Samuel Adams (1875). Nooks and Corners of the New England Coast. New York: Harper & Brothers. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  9. ^ "Growing Areas". Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm. Retrieved December 13, 2015.

External links[edit]