Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Quaternary and Climate Studies


Brian S. Robinson

Second Committee Member

Alice R. Kelley

Third Committee Member

M. Kate Beard-Tisdale

Additional Committee Members

Lisa K. Neuman


Archaeological shell middens on the coast of Maine are highly susceptible to the consequences of erosion and sea-level rise, both of which are increasing as threats due to the Earth’s changing climate. One such site, Holmes Point West in Machiasport, Maine, lies across Machias Bay from the largest known assemblage of petroglyphs on the East Coast, and adjacent to smaller concentrations of similar rock art. Recent University of Maine excavations at Holmes Point West have focused on investigating potential connections between the site and the petroglyphs, such as examples of ritual or symbolic behavior. Complicating analysis of the information from these excavations has been the fact that the shell midden at Holmes Point West appears to have eroded considerably since the earliest of the nearby petroglyphs were created.

Work in Machias Bay and the adjacent Quoddy Region has demonstrated that shell middens in those areas are expected to be located in front of their corresponding living areas, closer to shore. As the front of a site eroded away, living activities would have shifted inland, with new midden being placed in front of those new activity areas. The results of the excavations at the Holmes Point West site have been consistent with this expectation. Potential living and activity areas have been identified in strata below the shell midden that predate existing midden material on the site; those areas, as well as some other interior features, do not temporally correspond to any shell midden that remains at Holmes Point West in the present day.

Multiple activity areas have been identified at Holmes Point West that show potential relationships to petroglyph-manufacturing activities. Two separate periods of historic use or occupation have been identified, corresponding to the 17th and 18th centuries. The spatial and temporal data produced from this research has supported the hypothesis that Holmes Point West has lost considerable shell midden corresponding to site use in the Middle Woodland and potentially Early Woodland cultural periods as a consequence of erosional activity.

The primary objective of this work has been to plot and interpret the spatial distributions of the archaeological materials recovered from Holmes Point West in conjunction with information regarding features at the site and temporal markers from diagnostic artifacts and radiocarbon dates. Analysis of this material has produced a previously-unavailable, comprehensive understanding of Holmes Point West and its potential relationships to the nearby petroglyphs, and has provided information to guide strategic future excavations at the site.

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