March 10, 2017

Windham Historical Society gearing up for summer archeological dig by Stephen Signor

Last week at the Windham Public Library, the Windham Historical Society and State Head Archaeologist Leith Smith, invited the public for a presentation surrounding the archeological dig at Province Fort, a historic site on River Road, which is scheduled to continue this summer. 

Entitled “Digging up Windham: Forts from 1700 - Part One”, the purpose of the presentation and the information sharing session, was to enlighten anyone interested in the study of archaeology and the unearthed history of the region; including what has been recovered thus far. When asked by Windham Historical Society Linda Griffin to do a talk on the subject there was no hesitation by Smith.

Using slides in his presentation, the process of establishing, performing and completing a dig was revealed. “The purpose today is to talk about the process we go through at the Maine Preservation Commission when we have to go and investigate archaeological sites,” Smith said.

Smith began the presentation by discussing the Fort Richmond, Maine archeological dig - a site that had been excavated and worked on for about two years; so those in attendance could get a better understanding of the Province Fort dig.

“Anytime there is a road building project, new bridges or other types of ground disturbing construction we receive notices that these are going to occur; we review them and make determinations of whether or not there is potential for historic resources to be damaged,” Smith stated.

In the case of Fort Richmond, it was the bridge over the Kennebec River just north of Swan Island that sparked interest. Specifically it was the re-routing of an access road to the proposed new bridge that raised questions. 

“To determine what kind of area is going to be impacted by the construction having, at the time, no idea where the bridge was going to go. That gave us a great deal of area to investigate on both sides of the river,” continued Smith. 

Potential for Native American sites on the Richmond side were confirmed by standard archaeological phase one testing strategy. This involved shoveling test pits one meter by one meter and about 15 feet apart, after which the removed soil was then screened to spot artifacts for evidence of foundations, posts and such that would indicate historical and Native American occupation. 

“With the discovery of stone walls and numerous artifacts, a required application for a phase two dig was then filed for the purpose of determining the site’s eligibility for listing on the National Register based on having good integrity,” Smith continued. “In other words, could we learn a lot about Fort Richmond based on its level of preservation?”

Old maps and other documentary resources are also utilized. “The primary resource however was Reverend Henry Thayer who, in 1893, published an article, after extensive research on Fort Richmond and its early history. Most of the information we had came from his research,” said Smith

On display were interesting historic fragments of time. Of particular interest was the fragmented section of a small caliber cannon, with the shot still lodged within it. This was found by the National Geographic TV series “Diggers” crew; who had asked if they could be a part of the dig for a few days. Although not typically in the practice of using a metal detector by archaeologists, the show was granted access and proved interesting.”

To this, Smith pointed out that, “The media would have you believe that archaeologist spend the majority of their time looking at the unearthed goodies. In reality, we spend about 95 percent of our time looking at structures and soil samples because that’s what really tells us about the site and aids in the interpretation of what’s going on. And that is what is going to be going on this summer when, for the third straight year, Smith and a team of volunteers will begin again accessing an extension of last year’s dig at the Parson Smith House site off River Road. 

In the meantime, on March 18 at 10 a.m. at the Little Meeting House, 719 Roosevelt Trail, Smith will be presenting: “Part Two of Digging up Maine”, when he presents an overview of the Province Fort site and reveals for display, the variety of artifacts and knowledge that has been gained form that dig.

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