Quite often, the history of a civilization or culture is buried deep within the ground. Such is the case with much of Native American history. In Damariscotta, Maine, there is a grassy bluff located on the banks of a tidal river. For many lifetimes, Native Americans deposited oyster shells on these banks of the river. Now, hidden beneath the grass, these shells reveal the history and location of people who lived and died thousands of years ago.
The best-known site for shell heaps in Maine is the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site. Another name for a midden is a refuse heap. Midden sites have been able to preserve artifacts extremely well because of the alkaline calcium deposited by the buried substance. Artifacts, many, have decomposed over the years under acidic soil conditions. Middens often hold clues to how ancient people lived. Preserved artifacts can also help scientists gain a better understanding of historical climatic conditions.
A study of cultural history allows people to gain a better understanding of the differences and similarities as compared to other cultures. This also helps a person to understand who they are in the context of ethnic groups, religion, language, race, and history. People are still discovering nuances of Native American culture, along with its impact on the American landscape. In the meantime, Maine continues to give up its historical secrets about Native American life.