Students with the University of New Brunswick/University of New England Coastal Archaeological Field School recovered, crated and transported the remains of a 1275-1380 dugout canoe,  discovered in Cape Porpoise, to a boathouse for preservation in 2019. The canoe, along with a number of other artifacts found at Cape Porpoise, will be on exhibit at the Brick Store Museum starting Feb. 2. Admittance is by prior reservation, due to the pandemic. Brick Store Museum photo

KENNEBUNK – In November 2018, Tim Spahr of the Cape Porpoise Archaeological Alliance was in the village when he spied something he recognized as a dugout canoe. The alliance, a collaboration of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and Brick Store Museum, has been conducting scientific archaeological research on the islands and intertidal zone of Cape Porpoise Harbor for the past few years.

As it turns out, the canoe dates to 1275-1380. It is deemed to be the oldest dugout canoe ever found in what is known as the Far Northeast homeland of the Wabanaki, predating European settlement.

The canoe was excavated in 2019 and after months of careful work, it will be a highlight of the Brick Store Museum’s first exhibit of 2021. Called Cape Porpoise: Archaeology in the Archipelago,  the exhibit opens on Feb. 2 and will be available for viewing, by reservation, until April.

According to executive director Cynthia Walker, museum visitors will be able to see and learn about stone tools and arrowheads crafted and used by Wabanaki who lived here, along with pipe stems, and pottery fragments that speak to a later European settlement.

According to a July 2020 article in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, authored by Spahr, Arthur Anderson, Gabriel Hrynick , Gemma-Jayne Hudgell and Arthur Spiess, the birch canoe was discovered during a archaeological alliance surface survey of the intertidal area between Redin Island and the mainland. Carbon dating placed it as being from between 1275 and 1380, confirming it is the oldest archaeologically known watercraft from the Wabanaki homeland, according to the article.

The alliance’s archaeological work in the Cape Porpoise archipelago so far has focused on Stage and Redin islands and the surrounding intertidal zones. Among other items found are the possible remains of a fish weir, along with projectile points.


The canoe, according to the article, is 3.3 meters long and .48 meters at its known widest point. The appearance suggests it was narrowest at the bow and widest at the stern. It was made from a single birch log, thought to be of the yellow birch variety.

Spahr, in a recent article for the Maine Archaeological newsletter, said the alliance in 2019 coordinated with the with the University of New Brunswick/University of New England Coastal Archaeological Field School and recovered, crated and transported the remains of the dugout canoe to the Clement Clark Boathouse in Kennebunkport. Archaeologists noted that most of the wood had a spongy texture, and was very fragile.

He wrote that the dugout canoe was soaked in fresh water, changed daily until no saline content was detected. Applications of polyethylene glycol, a water-soluble wax-like chemical that penetrates and when dried, re-adhering wood fibers, were added over time, and after six months, the canoe was pressure bound in cloth for a slow drying process. There were other challenges, but it is now ready for exhibit.

Walker said that over several seasons, a variety of objects have been found by the alliance, revealing histories of culture and colonization in southern Maine.

The exhibition and the work of the alliance is supported by the Perloff Family Foundation

To view the exhibition, visitors must make a timed reservation through the museum’s online system at Walker said the protocol is in place to to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, while allowing the galleries to remain open to the public. As in the past, the museum is running its Free February campaign. Visitors can view the exhibit at no charge, but must have a valid reservation time to enter the buildings.

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