Wabanaki Life Thousands of Years Ago
What was life like thousands of years ago for Wabanaki families on Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park?
As Wabanaki people discarded unused clamshells, they piled up to form heaps, or middens. Over many years, these big garbage piles included broken or unwanted tools made from stone and bone. Normally, anything made from bone would quickly decompose in Maine’s acidic soil; however, calcium carbonate in shells neutralizes the soil, which preserves delicate bone and other organic material. The old saying, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” is certainly true here—shell midden sites provide archaeologists with important information about how Wabanaki people lived their everyday lives in the past.
One site along Somes Sound provides a snapshot of Wabanaki life 1,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that Wabanaki people set up temporary seasonal camps that included tent-like, birchbark homes called wigwams—meaning “home” in Algonquian-based languages. Wigwams were cone-shaped, and had a hole in the top to let out smoke from the cozy fire inside. The interior space around the fire was probably blanketed with large deer, moose, and bear pelts—perfect to cushion the dirt or sand-packed floor. Ceramic cooking pots, birchbark ladles and spoons, bone awls for poking holes in animal pelts, and other household items might have rested inside. Animal hides probably hung over the doorway to block wind and dust from blowing in. All in all, a wigwam was probably a comfortable, snug place to take respite from the summer sun or winter wind and snow.
What did Wabanaki people eat?
How did Wabanaki people make the things they needed for everyday life?
Did Wabanaki people visit in the summer, like today’s tourists?
 An Island in Time, Three Thousand Years of Cultural Exchange on Mount Desert Island, Abbe Museum Publication, David Sanger, 1984, p17
A Note on Protecting Archaeological Sites
To fully protect and preserve fragile archaeological sites, NPS policies and federal law require that sensitive information about the specific location and nature of archaeological sites on park lands be withheld from public disclosure. The NPS, however, recognizes that the American people are ultimately the stewards of these resources. Park interpretive programs aim to make the public aware of the value of these resources and the role citizens may play in stewardship.
Did You Know?
The Passamaquoddy Kit is an educational tool for teachers to help teach students about Passamaquoddy culture in Maine. The kit is a collaboration between the Abbe Museum and Acadia National Park staff.