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Carved in Stone UMaine and tribal experts collaborate to save Maine's rare petroglyphs on Machias Bay by Aimee Dolloff
Petroglyphs can be used to share Wabanaki history. UMaine archaeologist Brian Robinson stands in stocking feet (a preservation method) on a ledge that contains more than 250 petroglyphs spanning 1,000 years.

Petroglyphs can be used to share Wabanaki history. UMaine archaeologist Brian Robinson stands in stocking feet (a preservation method) on a ledge that contains more than 250 petroglyphs spanning 1,000 years.

Many of the images created by the Passa­maquoddy ancestors can be interpreted from the oral traditions of the Wabanaki and broadly distributed Algonquian people. Some of the most recent depict sailing ships.

The petroglyphs have been studied for 30 years by archaeologist Mark Hedden, who worked with Donald Soctomah and others who obtained the recent grants.

The Machias Bay area where the glyphs are found was in dispute between the English and the French up until the Revolution, and served as a refuge for a variety of groups during those years, Robinson says.

“They selected that bay for 3,000 years,” Robinson says. “The tradition being carried on was spiritual and artistic. It shows strong evidence of continuity that’s difficult to get sometimes in other parts of archeology.”

Exactly why the site was chosen as a place to record history remains a mystery that Robinson hopes archeological evidence can help solve.

Through the combined efforts of the tribe, local landowners and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the first step toward ensuring that the Passamaquoddy will be able to properly care for the site came when it was transferred from private ownership to the tribe in 2006.

The next step is development of a plan to manage this disappearing piece of their past that still holds many secrets and has the potential to serve as a breathtaking educational tool.

“They want to use the petroglyphs to share their past,” Robinson says. “They know that they’re eroding. They know that they’re not going to be there forever.

“What they’re doing is a great project,” Robinson says.


March/April 2009

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