Specialized Taphonomies in an Eastern Maine Shell Midden: Faunal Analysis of Site 62-8, Holmes Point West, Machias, Maine

Robert C. Ingraham

As of 2002, Degree of Master of Science (MS) Quaternary and Climate Studies published under the auspices of the Climate Change Institute.


This study analyzes the faunal material recovered from site 62-8, a Ceramic Period shell midden on Holmes Point West in Machias Bay, Maine. The site, located in an embayment containing the highest concentration of petroglyphs in coastal New England, has produced a faunal assemblage that is compositionally unique when compared to regional analogues. As a coastally located site, much of the faunal data is consistent with a coastally adapted subsistence strategy. Site subsistence strategies were extremely focused on seals, supplemented with marine and terrestrial taxa. The primary focus of this volume is the analysis of site formation processes and taphonomic drivers responsible for the study sample. Additionally, this study establishes an archaeological signature for a well-documented ethnographic ideology. Anomalous patterns in skeletal element ratios for seals indicate that seals were subject to ritual remains treatment and disposal, and entered the archaeological record via different pathways than other taxa present in the assemblage. Skeletal parts of seals were likely deposited in the sea, in accordance with a far-reaching and ethnographically ubiquitous set of proscribed cultural behaviors linked to the relationship between hunter and prey. Additionally, and unique thus far to Machias Bay, seal temporal bullas, a dense portion of the skull's auditory structure, were retained, while other remains were deposited at sea. In grey seals (Halichoerusgrypus), the left temporal bulla was favored over the right, while harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) were retained without preference for side. This study isolates and quantifies specific patterns in a faunal assemblage as direct evidence of ritual behavior and its associated archaeological signature. As archaeological deposits are functions of human behavior, the role of ritual behavior in site formation and taphonomy is significant. Site 62-8 is a record of ritual treatment of prey species, with ubiquitous ethnohistoric precedent, and the associated impacts in taphonomic progression and site formation.