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13 October 2008
Maine's largest prehistoric settlement

7,000-year-old archaeological site in Dresden (Maine, USA) has emerged as one of the most significant finds in New England, and is shaping the way historians view the lifestyles of Archaic period Native Americans. The state historic preservation commission is hoping to purchase the 14.2-acre waterfront site, using grant money obtained through the Land for Maine's Future Program.
     "Since they've done some digging, they found that there was a village there, which changes their whole thought process on the early people of this area," said Richard Lang. "They used to think (Native Americans) were just passing through, and now they think there was a settlement here," he added. "There are only two other places in New England with village-sized sites from this time period," said Arthur Spiess, a senior archaeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. "We thought (Native Americans) lived in small groups moving around the landscape, but it turns out that there's probably at least a seasonal large group."
     According to documentation filed with Land for Maine's Future, the site in Dresden is the largest and most intensively occupied site of its age known in Maine. The site also offered a different vantage point to 7,000 years ago. Since the end of the Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago, water levels have risen to conceal what was a distinct elevation drop on this Kennebec River location. When this site was home to a native village, experts suspect a major falls bridged what is now Dresden with Swan Island.
     "We can certainly find out what they were eating, because their trash was discarded in fireplaces and burned bones can be preserved for thousands of years," he continued. "We already have found sturgeon and striped bass bones at the site, and something like beaver and moose or deer," said Spiess. Determining the types of dwellings the natives used at this site would be more difficult, as any evidence of post holes was likely removed when the 'top half foot' of ground was plowed during the property's subsequent use as farmland. Instead, said Spiess, state archaeologists would map the site using garbage pits and fireplaces, and collect bone remains and period-specific stone tools.
     State officials were first tipped off to the site's bounty of artifacts nearly 20 years ago by amateur archaeologists, who stumbled upon stone tools there while hiking across the grounds. However, Spiess said the previous landowner at the time didn't give permission for professional archaeologists to dig. Still, the stone pieces delivered to state researchers by their amateur counterparts were tantalizing. To the trained eye, it was clear that the findings dated back to the early to middle Archaic period, between 8,000 to 4,000 BCE. The Maine Historic Preservation Commission waited for its chance to investigate the site until the fall of 2007, when it approached the new and current owners. The Dresden site stands to become the first property protected by Land for Maine's Future under the provision qualifying 'significant, undeveloped archaeological sites.'

Source: The Times Record (10 October 2008)

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