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Casco Bay Archaeological Project:

What Shell Middens Tell Us About Our History

Maine’s island communities are the primary stewards of their archaeological

heritage.  The Casco Bay Archaeological Project connects archaeologists,

island communities, and natural and cultural heritage organizations in their

shared concerns for preserving Maine’s shell midden sites.  The Chebeague

Island Historical Society is a Community Partner in this project.

Shell middens are accumulations of shells, bones, and artifacts situated found

in coastal areas.  Middens were left behind by Native peoples who harvested

shellfish and other marine animals along the Maine coast and islands, as well as other areas in

New England.  The goal of the examination of shell middens is to decipher what they tell us about the Native lifestyle. 






Many shell middens have been discovered on Chebeague Island, reflecting nearly 4000 years of indigenous inhabitants.

On March 19, 2023, CIHS hosted a presentation on "Archaeology of Casco Bay: What Shell Middens Tell Us About Our History."   Dr. Erin Crowley-Champoux, a USM lecturer on archeology, and Zoe Jopp, an intern for the project, described Maine's shell middens (their potential and their threats), previous archaeological surveys, and the renewed archaeological excavation in the Bay.  Included is the review USM's archaeological collections in order to develop a mobile exhibit with animal bone remains and artifacts from Paul Barker's 1960s excavations on Goose Island and Little Chebeague Island.


The Project's founders, Thomas Bennett and Nathan Hamilton, launched a field school on Little Chebeague in 2023 and also evaluated previously identified sites on Chebeague. 


Several Chebeaguers brought in artifacts that had been found near their homes. One arrowhead was identified as having been created 3,600 to 3,800 years before the present day. This was a great discovery!  For more information about the Casco Bay Archeology Project contact Thomas Bennett by email at:




An article in the Portland Press Herald, dated August 31, 2022 noted: "Middens contain shells, remains of reptiles and fish, tool fragments, and even pieces of pottery and can often be found on the coast and the islands of Maine. Excavators .. can tell the history of the area where they were found...  Middens can ... tell the stories of people who used to occupy that land, primarily Indigenous people."

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