Abbe Field School 2013

The field school this year started with an afternoon orientation session at the Abbe on Sunday, where the students learned about Maine archaeology, the history of the Tranquility Farm Site, and began to familiarize themselves with the kinds of artifacts they would be finding and the important record keeping they would be doing.

On Day One, the students worked with Dr. Art Spiess, Abbe Curator of Collections Julia Clark, and field supervisor Jane Clifton to lay out their excavation units on the site grid. A couple of the units had been started in previous years, so some students spent the first hour or so digging out the back-fill so they could pick up where previous excavations ended. Eventually everyone got started on their excavation units. The weather was beautiful, if a bit windy! At lunchtime, field school participant and Department of Environmental Protection fish biologist Dave Halliwell shared some of his extensive knowledge of the freshwater fish of Maine. In the evening, students delved into the analysis of animal bones with Dr. Spiess and Jane Clifton. 

On Day Two, a student uncovered a beautiful quartz point! Everyone was getting a feel for excavation techniques, artifact identifications, and the intricacies and details of proper record-keeping (several of the students had the good luck of working with long-time field school veteran Dee Lustusky to guide them in these ventures). At lunchtime, Abbe Museum Curator of Education Raney Bench talked with the students about several contemporary issues for the Wabanaki, and that evening Julia shared some of what she learned during the research for the "Meeting of Nations" exhibit about the St. Sauveur mission and 17th century Wabanaki-French-English interaction.

On Day Three, students unearthed two refitting fragments of a bone harpoon. Several of the students excavating in very complex stratigraphy learned how to carefully document the soil variations that will allow us to reconstruct life at Tranquility Farm more than a thousand years ago. Chris Sockalexis, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Penobscot Nation, came out to the site and shared his enthusiasm for shell midden archaeology and his skill as a flint knapper. It was the third day of lovely Maine summer weather. In the evening, Penobscot archaeologist Bonnie Newsom talked to the students about her dissertation research, and helped them see the people behind the artifacts and appreciate the importance of agency in human behavior.


On Day Four, it did begin to rain, but the students progressed onward with a great attitude. The day included
the very special event of Museum Educator George Neptune coming out to the site and playing and singing traditional Wabanaki songs with his drum, bringing language and music back to a place that has not heard the music of its original inhabitants for hundreds of years. And it gave the Field School students another way to learn more about the people who once lived at Tranquility Farm. Several students excavating near the outside edge of the site uncovered dark, most soils full of charcoal associated with a fire pit first identified during last years field school. In the evening, the students and supervisors gathered for a social evening of food and conversation.

On Day Five, the weather grew significantly worse, but there were several units that had to be finished, and the critical work of documenting the excavation had to be completed. With a brief escape to the shelter of vehicles to be safe from a passing thunderstorm, the indomitable students were able to complete the record keeping. One unit will have to await next year for completion. The final task of every field school then followed- the careful back-filling of the square excavation units, with the aim of returning the site to it natural appearance. While the wet, muddy conditions made this a bit of a challenge, the gracious property owner confirmed later that once the sun came back out and the field dried, it looked just fine!

It was a wonderful, successful week, with a great group of students, and we are looking forward to returning to Tranquility Farm next summer. The dates for the 2014 Field School are August 3-8. Contact Julia at the Abbe at
(207)288-3519 or if you would like more information!