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BOOM AND BUST ON THE RIVER: THE STORY OF THE DAMARISCOTTA OYSTER SHELL HEAPS

David Sanger and Mary Jo (Elson) Sanger
Archaeology of Eastern North America
Vol. 14 (Fall 1986), pp. 65-78
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40914267
Page Count: 14
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BOOM AND BUST ON THE RIVER: THE STORY OF THE DAMARISCOTTA OYSTER SHELL HEAPS
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Abstract

A century ago, in 1886, the famous Whaleback midden on the Damariscotta River, Maine, was mined commercially. Fortunately, not all was lost. Weekly reports, provenienced artifacts, and photographs documented the destruction. The present reconstruction builds on the archival information and presents a modern view of the oyster middens and their fragile ecosystem. As sea-levels rose throughout the Holocene, head of tide pushed upstream and over bedrock sills in the Damariscotta River. Oysters followed, and found a fertile niche that was basically predator free. Some time around 2400 B.P. Native Americans discovered the oysters, and by 1500 B.P. had built shell middens up to 30 ft (9 m) high. Increasing sea-level rise resulted in higher salinity levels, and eventually predators such as oyster drills joined forces with the Native Americans. Shortly thereafter the oysters were annihilated and the humans moved on, seeking more fertile ecosystems.

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