Thomas Bennett, director of Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland, studies several artifacts found in a 2016 archeological dig at the town’s Broad Cove Reserve. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — It’s amazing what a jawbone can tell you.

In the case of a centuries-old dog mandible unearthed in 2016 at an archaeology site at Broad Cove Reserve in Cumberland, it helps tell the story of those who resided there, or as Prince Memorial Library Director Thomas Bennett put it, their “day-to-day living.”

Bennett, who has worked on sites in Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona, and Dr. Arthur Spiess, chief historic preservationist in prehistoric archaeology with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, presented their findings Sept. 19 of the project they co-directed.

Archeology involves some digging and a lot of analysis, according to Thomas Bennett, who co-directed the Broad Cove dig. Shown here are some of the artifacts found and studied. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

The dig was prompted by the town’s 2014 purchase of the preserve, a 22-acre parcel off Foreside Road with 11 acres of shoreline that had been privately owned. Since Bateman Partners was developing homes on abutting land that had once been part of the property, state law mandated that prehistoric and historic surveys of the land be done, Bennett said in an interview.

Initial testing showed the presence of archaeological resources, which echoed a survey of the area Spiess conducted in 1979. A town farm and almshouse, on which Bennett has done research, had been located on the site in the 19th century, “so we already knew something was there,” he said.

With that information in hand, the town funded the cost of approximately $5,000 for the weeklong dig in September 2016. Much of the funding went towards studying the relics in the years since “because archaeology is some digging and a lot of analysis,” Bennett said.


The project was based around a shell midden, an ancient domestic waste dump. Since Maine’s soil tends to be highly acidic, organic items like the dog’s jawbone could have dissolved within a decade, Bennett said. But the calcium in shells found near the shore neutralizes the acidity, preserving the items Bennett’s team found in the midden.

An isotope analysis of the canine jawbone could reveal the diet of the dog and, if it was fed scraps under the table, of its owner, too. Bone, like hair, “is made of what you eat,” Bennett said.

Such a study wasn’t done because other findings in the pit revealed what the inhabitants were eating. “Fifty percent of the mass of the midden was … soft-shell clam,” he said. “We also found oyster and quahog.”

The team also found loon, sturgeon and beaver bones, which could have been used as tools.

With about 500 small Native American campsites eroding along Maine’s coast, “anytime we can get a good dig … to rescue data from them before they erode away, that’s good, that’s pleasing; that’s a first step,” Spiess said in a separate interview.

The archaeologists found three separate human dwellings at Broad Cove, two of them Native American. One was about 2,000 years old, the other about 1,000 years old. The third occurred after Europeans arrived, and likely dates from the 17th century, Spiess said. Metal nails and European flint stem from the later occupancy.

“To be able to separate out three different uses of the site, that makes us happy,” Spiess said.

An archaeologist for 40 years, he said the most enjoyable digs are those where results are expected: “The research and making discoveries … finding new information, is the fun part.”

Spiess hopes to work with Cumberland to get the site on the National Register of Historic Places to protect it from erosion. Since the area already has some natural protection, it could be a few decades until measures need to be taken, he said.

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