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Layers of Time Online Exhibit

Abbe : Exhibits : Online : Layers of Time : Ruth Moore Site

Ruth Moore Site, 1994-1996


Ruth Moore Site

The Ruth Moore site, a shell midden on an offshore island, came to light during the 1985 Frenchman Bay Archaeological Survey.


Moore, an author famous for her novels about Maine, grew up on the island and collected artifacts from the site. After seeing her collection, which contained artifacts representing the Late Archaic through European contact periods, Abbe curator Diane Kopec and research associate Dr. Steven Cox realized the potential of the site. Further testing by Dr. Cox led to an Abbe Museum field school.


What did they want to know?

When did people start living on offshore islands and how did
they make a living?


What have we learned?

The Ruth Moore site contained dense and deep layers of alternating clamshells and shell-free black soil—the stratigraphy. Each layer relates to a period when people lived there. By sorting out the layers and associated artifacts, the archaeologists began to assemble a picture of approximately 4,000 years of occupation.


What did they find?


Three Stone Points Fish, bird and mammal bones

These three stone points, found near the base of the midden, are a mystery.

Fish, bird and mammal bones were all present and preserved in the midden.


Dog Skeleton












Indian dog skeleton

This dog was buried just as you see it, in a small pit extending down from the base of the midden at the Ruth Moore site. Archaeologists measured, sketched and photographed the skeleton in place before carefully removing it from the ground in one piece.


The dog was one or two years old at the time of death and stood about 18 inches at the shoulder. It would have been about the size of a terrier or beagle. One of the dog's bones was radiocarbon dated to 4050±70BP (before present).




Wall Profile

The Ruth Moore site contained dense and deep layers of alternating clamshells and shell-free black soil–the stratigraphy. By sorting out the layers and the related artifacts, archaeologists assembled a picture of 4,000 years of human occupation at the site.

Top: Present – 400 years ago

A hay field covers the site today. Beneath the thick grass sod, finely crushed clamshells (FCS) are evidence that the site was historically plowed. A French family and an English family both settled on the island in the late 1600s. They probably farmed and fished.

Middle: Fine crushed shell (FCS), Late Ceramic and Contact Periods, 400 – 1,200 years ago

Pottery decorated with a cord-wrapped stick pattern identifies the Late Ceramic Period. Arrowheads have side notches for hafting. Clay pipe stems and brass fragments are European trade items. People were fishing for cod in the late winter to early spring spawning season. Dogfish, sturgeon and goose bones suggest that people were also occasionally on the island during summer and into the fall.

Bottom: Coarse crushed shell (CCS), Middle Ceramic Period, 1,200 – 2,100 years ago

Middle Ceramic pottery is decorated with rectangular, toothed (dentate) designs. Tools include small arrowheads with stems. Cod bones are very common, with sculpin, wolffish, deer, seal, sea mink and beaver also present.


References: The Indian Shell Heap: Archaeology of the Ruth Moore Site. Steven Cox and Gary Lawless. Blackberry Books, Nobleboro, ME, 1994.



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