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Maine's prehistory was formed by the retreat of the glacier about 12,000 years ago, inundating the coastline and extending far into the interior. By 5,000 BP the people known as the Maritime Archaic or Red Paint People were utilizing the rich resources and burying their dead ceremoniously painted with red ocher, hence the name.
The many subsequent Native groups left a culture inherited by living native tribes, the Penobscot, the Passmaquoddy and the Micmac. Maine's unique geography with 3500 miles of deeply indented coastline and islands, the small amount of fertile land mostly along the rivers, the high mountains and generally rocky soil, has affected the settlement patterns.
By the time George Popham attempted his ill fated settlement in 1607 near the mouth of the Kennebec River, there had been many other poorly documented voyages. Arrival of the first Europeans resulted in disastrous epidemics that wiped out a large percentage of the population.
The 70+ Maine Site Reports contain many that were first reported by the Early Sites Research Society (ESRS) Jim Whittall, Malcolm Pearson, Mystery Hill, Mead Stapler and others. Most have been updated, copied and reside in the archives of the NEARA library in Nashua NH.
As we explore the landscape we find it filled with many typical New England stone walls (and many stone rows that do not fall in that category), a few stone chambers, a surprising variety of well built cairns, and some inexplicable stone constructions.
Without doubt the best known and most controversial discovery of Pre-Columbian European presence in Maine was made in 1972 by a quintessential Maine Yankee named Walter Elliott.
Spirit Pond Runestone Obverse
He spotted three mysterious stones at the edge of Spirit Pond, in Phippsburg, Maine. About six by eleven inches, one stone clearly featured a rough map and all with strange writing placed randomly on one side, and a few marked and crude drawings on the other. The second stone bore a dozen letters on one side, and the third contained a long message of sixteen lines neatly inscribed on both sides of the stone
Spirit Pond Map Stone
Walter Elliott took the stones to the Bath Maritime Museum, where director Harold Brown suggested that the marks might be in the Norse runic alphabet. Subsequently the stones found their way to Einar Haugen, Distinguished Harvard professor of Scandinavian languages and history. In his published evaluation, he was adamant in crying fraud, hoax, modern artifact, “a few Norse words in a sea of gibberish”. The rank and file of Scholars stood behind the Haugen pronouncement.
“The Spirit Pond Inscription Stone, Rhyme and Reason”, Suzanne Carlson, NEARA Journal, in two parts, Vol. 28- 1&2, 1993 and Vol. 28- 3&4 1994
“The Runestones of Spirit Pond, Maine”, Einar Haugen, Man in the Northeast No 4,62-79 1972.
Hall, Robert, The Kensington Stone is Genuine, Hornbeam Press, Columbia SC, 1982
The Last King’s of Norse America, The Spirit Pond and Kensington Runestones: a Saga of Medieval History
Bingham dig for web.pdf
Following up on Doug Schwartz’ 1995 work at the Belmont Maine Chamber, Ros Strong and Sue Carlson decided it was time to revisit the question of its astronomical alignments. Doug’s prediction that during the lunar minor standstill the full moon’s glow would light the rear wall of the chamber on the winter solstice was validated by the owner that December. The minor lunar standstill was really the next year, 1996-7, but 1995-6 was very close. Doug had also suggested that something might happen during the summer solstice sunset.
Sue, an enthusiastic user of Google’s Sketchup for 3D architectural computer modeling, constructed the primitive “Virtual” chamber shown above, right. To do this she set the longitude, latitude, solstice date and declination based on GPS and corrected compass readings. After setting “show shadows”, she scrolled through the sunset hour watching the sunbeam travel across the floor of the chamber and evaporates at the back corner of the southeast wall.
On the evening of June 21, a NEARA group and the owners gathered at the chamber around 6:45, clutching cameras while trying to wish away the low clouds visible through the trees on the horizon. Slowly the show began in accordance with the virtual test. The photo (above left) shows a small faint rectangle beginning its creep up the back wall. As the shaft of light moved across the chamber wall, the clouds dimmed its glow. But at the moment the full orb was visible by an observer – and camera – from the inside corner. For us, especially those who have never observed this sort of astronomical event, it was truly “awesome.”
Solstice sunset, Sketchup model
Sketch of Belmont Chamber
We know there are other chambers that track solar-lunar astronomical events in the Northeast. Byron Dix and Jim Mavor studied Massachusetts’ Upton Chamber and Vermont’s Calendar I in depth. Other sites such as the Burnt Hill Standing stones in Massachusetts and the Bingham Cairns in Maine have been verified. Others have been rumored or reported.
Whitefield cairn 3
Historical research on the N. Whitefield cairns continues with the help of Jay Robbins; still no clue as to any reason for this huge construction. Clayton McLaughlin of Fairfield and Rob Sirois of Gorham have been out in rugged areas taking GPS readings on some old sites and new ones such as Beech Hill. We are particularly interested in adding this new information to current topo maps as part of a professional looking site report. -Roslyn Strong
ANCIENT NOROMBEGA Voyages of Simon Ferdinando and John Walker to the Penobscot River 1579-1580, Bernard De Costa NEARA Journal Vol. 43-2 Winter 2010
In the third volume of "The Narrative and Critical Victory of America" (pp. 171 and 186), the writer has stated a few facts with respect to Simon Ferdinando, who, so far as his knowledge extends, led the first English expedition to the region now covered by the State of Maine, but then known as a part of Norombega.
MAINE The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present, Richard W. Judd, Edwin Churchill, Joel W. Eastman eds. University of Maine Press, Orono 1995. This comprehensive history surveys the rich history from Prehistoric times to the early 1990s though a variety of fields including archaeology, anthropology, ethnic studies as well as history of such subjects as eyes of politics, culture, economics, labor, military and maritime history.
TWELVE THOUSAND YEARS American Indians in Maine, Bruce J. Bourque, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2001. An excellent history of the earliest archaeological work in Maine with photos and a good bibliography.
Meddybumps Archaelogy paper from EPA
Maine Archaeology Society
Maine Historical Society
Maine State Museum
Maine State Archives The Maine State Archives maintains approximately 95 million pages of official State records considered to be permanently valuable.