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State Submerged Resources > Maine


Known for its dramatic ocean scenery and thousands of offshore islands, Maine’s mostly rocky coastline is over 5,000 miles long. The interior of the state is dotted with lakes including Moosehead Lake, the largest in New England. The Kennebec, the Penobscot, the St. Croix, and the St. John are among the rivers that flow to the Atlantic Ocean. Covering more than 4,500 square miles (almost 13% of the state), the waters of Maine can be tremendously turbulent especially at the Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere.

What is Maine's maritime history?

Maine’s maritime heritage goes back over 10,000 years when, after the last North American glaciations, Native Americans moved into the area. These people used dugout canoes and, later, birch bark canoes, to fish, trade, and travel along the lakes, rivers, and streams, and in the ocean. The vessels of choice among European explorers, traders, and colonists were bateaux and canoes. Throughout its history, Maine is recognized for its naval shipyards, the earliest known naval ship having been built in 1690. The hey-day of shipbuilding in Maine began in earnest in the 1800s with clipper ships and coastal schooners.

What sites are underwater?

More than 1,300 ship losses are known to have occurred in Maine’s waters mostly due to violent weather, rocky shores, hidden sandbars, negligent crews, intentional scuttling, and collisions. Two of the earliest recorded losses are the British merchant ships Angel Gabriel, built for Sir Walter Raleigh’s last expedition to America in 1617 and destroyed by a hurricane while anchored at Pemaquid in 1635, and the Nottingham Galley, wrecked at Boone Island in 1710. Many ships from the American Revolution and the War of 1812 were lost in Maine including 30 American ships in the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition of 1779 that attempted to destroy a loyalist colony at Fort George. Other examples of ship losses include the clipper ship Hanover that capsized and broke up at the mouth of the Kennebec River in 1849, the schooner Joseph Luther that wrecked on Whaleback Island in 1900, and the schooner hulks Hesper and Little Luther that were laid up as breakwaters in Wiscasset Bay in 1936.

Who takes care of Maine's underwater archeological sites?

The State Museum owns all archeological artifacts found on, in, or beneath state controlled lands and cares for them as trustee for the citizens of the state. The Maine Historic Preservation Commission is responsible for identifying, evaluating, and protecting Maine's significant cultural resources. In 1981, the Commission established the Maine Shipwrecks Inventory to record information about ship losses. Most of the information is based on primary and secondary reference sources supplemented by some on-site observations.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

The directors of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, the State Museum, and the state agency with jurisdiction over state-owned land must cosign any permit that allows excavation on that land. Permit applicants must establish the qualifications of the principal investigator and provide facilities to ensure proper conservation of artifacts.

What laws concern underwater archeology in Maine?

The Maine Antiquities Law is codified in Title 27, Chapter 13, Subchapter 2, § 371, et seq., of the Maine Revised Statutes. Related regulations are in the Code of Maine Rules at § 94-073 for the Maine State Museum Commission and § 94-089 for the Historic Preservation Commission. These laws and rules recognize the importance of Maine's cultural heritage and declare the state's policy to preserve and protect archeological sites for proper excavation and interpretation.

Related Websites:

Maine Archaeological Society
Maine Historical Society
Maine Maritime Museum