Ancient Dominions of Maine
Native American Artifacts in the Davistown Museum Collection

In the Davistown Museum curator's 35 year search for and recovery of the woodworking tools of the maritime era of coastal New England, planes, axes, adzes and other woodworking tools were not the only items found in the tool chests, attics and cellars of the descendants of the woodworkers of an earlier time.  Obscure individual unexplained artifacts of an obviously Native American origin were a surprisingly frequent occurrence in the tool chests and storage drawers of coastal New Englanders.  In some cases, interesting artifacts such as General Mead's Apache water basket were accompanied by an oral history of how they came to New England (the water basket ended up in Waltham, MA, and was recovered along with many of the museum's current collection of the publications of the Massachusetts Archaeology Society.)  In a few cases, the tool seller was still alive to recall the origin of one or two Native American artifacts as in the case of the moose hide scraper and the pestle found in Unity, Maine.  In most cases, however, no provenance helps document the origins of the artifacts found among the hand tools and workshops of New Englanders.  Three major hoards of Native American artifacts have turned up and become the property of the museum during our search for the woodworking tools of maritime New England.  The inventory listings for the Coffin Stream Assemblage and Wapanucket 8 Hoards are given separately, while the Cohasset Hoard is included in the Native American Artifacts general listing.

The first, and most unusual hoard of artifacts to appear on a tool call is what we call the Cohasset Hoard.  At the end of a routine tool call, a Liberty Tool Company customer noted that they had some Native American artifacts collected by a relative in shoe boxes in the attic.  The collection was purchased in its entirety and formed the core of the museum's Native American collection prior to the acquisition of the Coffin Stream and Wapanucket collections.  Many of the artifacts were labeled either numerically or with their place of origination.  The deceased collector had apparently been a professional archaeologist and, as was often the case before 1960, kept many of the artifacts that he recovered.  These artifacts included lithics, bone, shell, bronze and other natural materials from all over New England as well as from the mid-west and California.  Perhaps of most significance was an extensive collection of wampum, mostly of New England origin, as well as an extraordinarily beautiful shell and bead necklace from coastal California.  Unfortunately, as with all the uncataloged collections of both pot hunters and archaeologists, no information was available about the identity of this collector or where and when he obtained these artifacts.  Most of these artifacts are now on display in cases B and C in the museum main hall.  This collection is a testimony to the wide variety of natural materials utilized by the Native American communities who lived in North America prior to European contact.  They resonate with both the individual beauty of each item and the spirit and craftsmanship of the individuals who made them and provide a vivid example of what Bruce Bourque has called the diversity and complexity of Native American communities in coastal Maine and throughout the Americas.

A second hoard of Native American artifacts was purchased in 2001 in coastal New Hampshire.  Collected at a single location along the Merrimac River in West Newbury, Massachusetts, the collection had the advantage of being known to have been found in one place over a period of almost 100 years by a single family.  Now called the Coffin Stream Assemblage after the name of the stream in West Newbury, MA, which was a camping site for Native Americans for thousands of years, the collection is now installed in a special display area to the left of the main hall, courtesy of funding provided by the MBNA Corporation of Camden, Maine.  A review of the artifacts in this collection and their comparison with the displays at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor and the Maine State Museum in Augusta helps underscore the continuity as well as the longevity of Native American communities that lived in coastal New England.  The Davistown Museum utilizes this display area to highlight the controversial issue of the meaning and significance of Norumbega as a Native American bioregion, possibly coinciding with Mawooshen, the Confederacy of Native American communities described by the Native Americans kidnapped by George Waymouth in coastal Maine in 1605 (Purchas, 1625).  Many of the essays in this volume and the annotated bibliographies that follow this introduction explore in more detail the intriguing conundrums and archaeological and ethnohistoric controversies that surround the mysterious disappearance of the vast majority of Native Americans living along the coast of New England east of Naragansett Bay in the period just after European contact.

The Davistown Museum's Wapanucket 8 Hoard, abbreviated as WAP-8 by previous collectors and archaeologists, is derived from an extensive series of excavations in a large Native American mortuary site along the shores of Lake Assawompsett in Middleboro, MA.  Now the water supply for the cities of Taunton and New Bedford, Assawompsett is the largest natural lake in Massachusetts and its well known Wapanucket burial grounds are considered sacred by the Native Americans who camped in the area as recently as 1919.  The Wapanucket site is the subject of a 333 page archaeological report by Maurice Robbins.  This report provides extensive and nearly complete documentation for the artifacts recovered in a series of excavations.  Organized and disciplined archaeological excavations began in 1941 and resumed after World War II in 1946 and continued until shortly before the Wapanucket report was published by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society in 1980.

These artifacts were destined for the Bronson Museum in Attleboro, MA, but it lost its lease and most of the artifacts were transferred to the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleboro, MA.  Robbins' Wapanucket: An archaeological report documents a major southeastern New England Native American site that was occupied intermittently from the early Archaic to the late Woodland period.  The artifacts obtained by The Davistown Museum from this site have been incorporated into the museum's Coffin Stream Assemblage display area.  They provide further compelling evidence of the vibrancy, complexity and long duration of Native American communities in New England, and also serve as an excellent source of comparison to the artifacts in the Coffin Stream Assemblage, as well as those on display at the Abbe Museum and the Maine State Museum that derived from the numerous coastal sites excavated from locations in downeast coastal Maine.