Maine, a Guide down East

By Workers of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Maine | Go to book overview

EARLIEST INHABITANTS: THE RED PAINT PEOPLE

SCATTERED all along the Maine coast and through southern New England are great shell-heaps, said to have been accumulated from one thousand to five thousand years ago. Allowing a century for a certain number of inches of mold upon the mounds, archeologists have been able in some degree to estimate their great age. They were made, it is supposed, by the Indians who in summer migrated to the coast and reaped mighty harvests from the sea. The heaps are so large that it must have required centuries of clam-feasts for their accumulation. They are valuable because of the many interesting relics found buried in them.

But these are not the earliest archeological remains. Throughout the central and eastern part of the State, along the coast and in stream valleys, Maine inhabitants have been discovering since the time of the first settlers the graves of a prehistoric people who had either become extinct or had evolved a new civilization by the time the shell-heaps began to take form. While these graves occur most thickly in Maine, the area in which they are found extends throughout New England and into Canada. Because the shell-heaps contain remains of mollusks now found only in southern waters and the surface of the land along the shore seems to have suffered some change, we know that this early people existed in a time when geologic evolution was still going on and the climate of New England was much warmer than it is now. That this people antedated those who made the shell-heaps is ascertained by the difference in the quality and workmanship of the weapons found in the shell-heaps and in the graves.

Very little actually is known about these earliest inhabitants. They are called the Red Paint People because each of the discovered graves contains a quantity (varying from less than two quarts to a bushel) of a brilliant red ocher (powdered hematite). Sometimes, though rarely, this pigment is shaded to yellow or brown, the yellow coloration often found in the graves having been created by iron corrosion. The fact of 'ocher burial' is not particularly distinctive, however, because it is a characteristic of certain early peoples the world over. Paleolithic graves in France and Australia show evidences of ocher; later races in New England

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