Archeological research at UMM gets a boost from anonymous donor

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Professor Vinzani and students in the Petroglyphs & Middens course

The University of Maine at Machias has received a gift of $12,500 from an anonymous donor that will help fund continuing efforts to research, record and archive petroglyph sites on Machias Bay, head of campus Andy Egan has announced.

Machias Bay is home to one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs on the Atlantic coast of North America, according to archeologists. The ancient images were pecked into tidal rocks by the Passamaquoddy people as many as 3,000 years ago and depict animals, humans and shamanic rituals.

Bernie Vinzani, a professor of interdisciplinary fine arts at UMM, and Jamie Moreira, associate professor of community studies, lead a summer class on field trips to study the petroglyphs. On a recent trip, Vinzani says, students uncovered what he believes may be a previously unrecorded carving. The anonymous donor was inspired by news of the possible discovery, which has been shared with tribal historian Donald Soctomah for further review.

UMM has supported various projects related to the sites, working closely with members of the Passamaquoddy tribe. A series of surface rubbings of the petroglyphs created in the 1970s by now-retired archeologist Mark Hedden is housed at the university and has previously been exhibited at the UMM Art Gallery. The prints provide an essential historical record of the carvings in stone, which are susceptible to damage and may one day be lost to rising sea levels.

Another past UMM project involved creating a digitized map of a key petroglyph site in Machiasport. Students in UMM’s Geographic Information Systems lab drew from existing surveys and their own work in the field to complete the project, which was led by Hedden, Soctomah and professor Tora Johnson, director of the GIS Service Center.

Vinzani says he will consult with tribal members on the best use of the donated funds.

“My goal,” says Vinzani, “with the help of my Passamaquoddy friends, is to help our students understand the place where they live and study, the people who lived here before the European settlements, and the rich culture of the people of Sipayik and Motahkomikuk (Pleasant Point and Peter Dana Point, Indian Township).”

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