Abbe Launches Archaeological Advisory Committee

It’s August, the time of year when the Abbe Archaeological Field School happened for many years. As many of you may know, the field school is currently on hiatus as we begin the process of finding the right place for archaeology in our decolonizing museum practices.

The Museum is beginning the process of addressing our archaeological research, collections, and interpretation through the formation of an Archaeological Advisory Committee. The Abbe Museum, in partnership with Acadia National Park, is excited to launch this new project as part of our Decolonization Initiative, and we’re working under a Cooperative Agreement to partner with the Wabanaki Nations of Maine to inspire new learning, to understand issues of stewardship of heritage resources, and to provide opportunities for co-management of research about Wabanaki history and archaeology.  

The Abbe was founded in 1926 around goals to collect, preserve, and interpret the archaeological record of the region, and we have been doing archaeological research in the Wabanaki homeland since 1928. However, like most archaeological work in North America, this was not done with any involvement with or consideration for the Wabanaki people themselves for many decades. In recent years, the Museum has begun to work more collaboratively on some aspects of our archaeological content, but as a decolonizing museum, we know that we need to do so much more.

We will bring together an outstanding group of knowledge-keepers from the Wabanaki communities and the field of archaeology to help us assess where we are, think about what role archaeological research, collections, and interpretation should have in the Wabanaki homeland, and to bring current best practices in Indigenous archaeologies to shape the future of our work at the Abbe Museum and in Acadia National Park. This group includes more than 10 Indigenous archaeologists and anthropologists, and several non-Native archaeologists who have shown a strong track record of working collaboratively with Indigenous communities. The Abbe team is very grateful to everyone who has agreed to share their time and expertise to kick off the process!

Acadia National Park resource managers will join the process, to listen and learn about issues of heritage resources stewardship, offer insights from their experiences, and collaborate with the Abbe Museum and Wabanaki Nations to protect Wabanaki archaeological resources. Wabanaki archaeologists, anthropologists, and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers from the Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and Aroostook Band of Micmacs will be members of the committee. Indigenous archaeologists from colleges and universities in New England and the Canadian Maritimes and from the National Park Service (NPS) will be joined by non-Native archaeologists and anthropologists from our region, the NPS, the Smithsonian, and beyond.

The initial on-site meeting of the Archaeological Advisory Committee will take place this November. This meeting will be followed up by virtual meetings and collaborations, both with the full committee and in smaller working groups. Our hope is to develop guiding principles, priorities, best practices, and protocols to re-envision archaeological research, collections management, and interpretation, not only at the Abbe but across the Wabanaki homeland. 

Julia Gray is Director of Collections & Research at the Abbe Museum. As a non-tribal museum whose work focuses on the Wabanaki (the Native people of northern New England and easternmost Canada), the Abbe is committed to a vision to reflect and realize the values of decolonization in all of its practices, working with the Wabanaki Nations to share their stories, history, and culture with a broader audience. Gray’s work in collections management and care, exhibit development, research, and community outreach has engaged extensively with the decolonizing vision of the museum, most recently in the development of our core exhibit, People of the First Light.

2015 Abbe Field School in photos

It was a perfect week for the 24th annual Abbe Museum Field School. Not just because of the weather, but lots of amazing items were uncovered: a variety of pottery, stone and bone tools, food bone remains, and one of the spears found was in immaculate condition.

Participants worked

with Maine State Archaeologist Dr. Arthur Spiess on the Tranquility Farm coastal shell midden site, and conducted excavations, practiced mapping the site, and learned about the analysis of artifacts. Now begins the process of cleaning, cataloging, and preserving the important findings from this year’s dig and making them available for research and education.

Annual Meeting Highlights

The Abbe's 2015 Annual Meeting was held on Wednesday, August 12th and we covered a lot of ground as we reported on fiscal year 2014, as well as our plans for the future. There were demonstrations by four Native artists, a sneak peek at our new strategic plan, and we honored an outgoing Trustee with the highest award bestowed by the Abbe.

Back in July, the Abbe named its 2015 Wabanaki Artist Fellows, recognizing three exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant artist contributions in the future: Donna Brown, Penobscot; Ganessa Frey, Penobscot; and Emma Soctomah, Passamaquoddy. These fellowships were made possible through support from Dawnland, LLC, the concessioner in Acadia National Park, who was in attendance at the Annual Meeting. All three Fellows gave demonstrations during the Annual Meeting, delighting guests with their art and answering any questions.

Ganessa Frey discussed basketmaking with Abbe supporters Joe and Cathy Gerstner.

Emma Soctomah admitted that artwork is very important to her, and she spends much of her time outside of school making baskets. She's off to the Santa Fe Indian Market this month to try and win some more awards. 

Donna Brown discussed her traditional beadwork with Abbe Trustee Sandy Wilcox.

The fellowships awarded are intended to provide support for travel, lodging, and other costs associated with exhibiting at Indian art markets in Maine and New Mexico. Emma and Ganessa will attend the 2015 Southwestern Association for Indian Art’s Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA), and Donna attended the 2015 Native American Festival and Basketmakers Market last month.

Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, also gave a basketmaking demonstration. A utility basketmaker, Gabe uses his family's traditional knowledge and style to create beautifully woven, sturdily built utility baskets that can be used for a variety of purposes.

Gabe Frey (far right) carries on the tradition, high quality, and style of his grandfather who taught him, while incorporating his own individual aesthetic, forms, and decorative weaves. 

The Golden Trowel Award, the highest award bestowed by the Abbe, was presented to Art Spiess for his invaluable contributions in making the Abbe Museum's annual Field school happen. This school has been an integral part of the Abbe’s archaeological work since the 1980s, and is one of the most significant ways we teach about archaeology and engage people in this important way of learning more about Wabanaki history and culture. The success of the field school over the years has been due in large part to the outstanding contributions of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and educators from around Maine. And for the past nine years, nobody has been as essential to that success at Art Spiess.

Art received his PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University in 1978, and he began his career at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission that same year. Art has been on the Board of The Maine Archaeological Society for more than 20 years, and he serves as the Editor of Archaeology of Eastern North America for the Eastern States Archaeological Federation.

Art has generously given his time and expertise to the field school, leading this outstanding annual learning experience. He has also been key in helping the Abbe keep our practices and policies around archaeological research and collections up-to-date with current standards and legal requirements. He has guided archaeology in Maine for over four decades of work at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and his depth of knowledge has been essential to the success of the field school.

Abbe's Director of Collections & Interpretation presented Art with the Golden Trowel Award.

The night ended on an exciting note: the Abbe's new strategic plan. This plan will guide the next phase of the Museum’s growth and development, from its adoption in 2015, through the next five to seven years. Our mission hasn’t changed, but our vision has a new focus:

The Abbe Museum will reflect and realize the values of decolonization in all of its practices, working with the Wabanaki Nations to share their stories, history, and culture with a broader audience. 

There are three phases to the plan, and phase one will kick-off very ambitiously this fall. The Abbe's President & CEO, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, gave a sneak peek of each goal, which will include a permanent exhibit, new and improved web presence, expansion of our dialogue-based programming, development of an archaeology advisory committee, an online collections database, and producing the Abbe Museum Indian Market. An official plan will be rolled out very soon!

A very big thank you to all those who came to the Museum on Wednesday to celebrate with us! We can't wait to see what happens next!

2015 Abbe Field School

The 2015 Abbe Field School kicked off on Sunday, August 2, offering a first-hand experience in an archaeological dig. This year's dig is excavating the Tranquility Farm Site, first explored by the Abbe Museum in the 1930s, and again during a series of field school excavations in the 1990s.

This year's excavations will build on previous exciting discoveries from the farm's site, which include a house floor and hearth feature with a radiocarbon date of 1240 ± 70 BP; the identification of burned plant remains from the hearth including raspberry, chenopodium, smartweed, wild rye and dewberry; and an assemblage of dentate-stamped pottery assigned to the Middle Ceramic Period, 2,100 - 800 years ago.

Fieldwork is complemented by lab sessions and lectures that give participants a broad understanding of archaeology and Maine's Native American heritage.

Dave Halliwell and Tim Spahr checking their paperwork.

Field School participants, Doug Sharpe and Anju Roy, examine their screen.

Abbe Museum Educator Jen Heindel uncovered some impressive pot shards on her first day!

Some participants get more into their work than others. Mary Ellen Sharp is learning what happens when you scratch your face while digging. She beats out Team Supervisor Kate Pontbriand (far left), who was our dirtiest face winner last year.

Michele Kirchner found a gem of a spear point on Day 2.

Tess Lichtmam consults with field school super volunteer Dee Lustusky on what she is uncovering.

Kate Pontbriand, field supervisor-in-training, consults with Art Spiess about the stratigraphy in the pit she is overseeing.

Kate Pontbriand shared her various archaeological field experiences with participants on Day 3. 

Abbe Museum Field School Offers First-hand Experience in an Archaeological Dig

Tranquility Farm
The August 2 – 7 dig will take place at Tranquility Farm in Gouldsboro

The Abbe Museum, well known for conducting outstanding archaeology programs, is offering its 24th annual archaeological field school August 2-7, 2015. Participants will work with Maine State Archaeologist Dr. Arthur Spiess on the Tranquility Farm coastal shell midden site in Gouldsboro, Maine, and will conduct excavations, practice mapping the site, and learn about the analysis of artifacts.
“The Abbe Field School is an inspiring way to connect with Native American culture that has been present in Maine for thousands of years,” said Douglas Sharpe, 2014 Field School participant and Abbe Trustee. “It connects me to the land and to the people who have used it far longer than Europeans that have been here for a mere half a millennium. It allows me to imagine what lifeways were like in distant past epochs which in turn allow me to richly appreciate the vibrancy and legacy of modern Wabanaki cultures. I have found the field school to be a cornerstone of my experience and learning with the Abbe, and it has expanded my world view.” 
The 2015 excavation will build on previous discoveries at the site, including a house floor and hearth feature that date to about 1,200 years ago. Burned plant remains from the hearth include raspberry, chenopodium, smartweed, wild rye, and dewberry. A variety of pottery, stone tools and bone tools, as well as food bone remains, are plentiful at the Tranquility Farm site. Fieldwork will be complimented by lab sessions and lectures to give participants a broad understanding of archaeology and how it can help us learn about Wabanaki history and culture.

Participation in the field school is open to the public, and while no previous archaeological experience is necessary, enrollment is limited. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis until the field school is full. The cost is $350 for Abbe Museum members and $400 for non-members. You must be 17 or older to participate. Arrangements for lodging and meals must be made by participants, and are not included in the registration fee.

For more information, contact the Abbe Museum’s Director of Collections and Interpretation, Julia Clark, at (207)-288-3519 or

About the Abbe Museum
The mission of the Abbe Museum, now Maine’s first Smithsonian Affiliate, is to inspire new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit. The Abbe has a collection of over 50,000 archaeological, historic and contemporary objects including stone and bone tools, pottery, beadwork, carved root clubs, birch bark canoes, and supporting collections of photographs, maps, and archival documents. It holds the largest and best-documented collection of Maine Native American basketry in any museum. Its collections conservation program is recognized nationally as a model for museums. The Abbe’s two locations - downtown Bar Harbor and at Sieur de Monts Spring in Acadia National Park - are now open daily from 10 am – 5 pm.