Photos of Site
Passamaquoddy, EPA work to preserve site
By Diana Graettinger, Of the NEWS Staff
MEDDYBEMPS — The state identified the archaeological site with a number: Site 96.02.
But to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the former toxic waste dump is the home of their ancestors, so the tribal elders have named it “Ntolonapemk” — “My Relatives’ Place.”
Earlier this week, representatives of the tribe, the state and the federal governments held an open house at the archaeological dig that has been called the largest in Washington County and one of the largest east of the Penobscot River.
During the past few months, the site has produced a wealth of artifacts that date back 8,000 years. It was the site of a Passamaquoddy village.
The site also tells the tale of a 50-year tragedy. For more than half a century, the 5-acre parcel was the dumping ground for military storage containers filled with hazardous materials, as well as salvage scrap metal, miscellaneous debris and old military ammunition.
In 1985, inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection detected strong chemical odors, leaking electrical transformers, hundreds of deteriorating gas cylinders and other hazardous waste at the site.
The state launched an emergency cleanup and notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which took over. Three years ago, the site, which is bordered by Meddybemps Lake, the Dennys River, Route 191 and Stone Road, was added to EPA’s list of priority projects for further cleanup under the Superfund program. Such a listing made Meddybemps eligible for federal cleanup money.
In May of last year during the cleanup, American Indian artifacts were found at the site. Once the artifacts were found, EPA began to work closely with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the tribe to preserve the site. The results of that cooperative effort led to the open house on Tuesday.
Pleasant Point tribal Gov. Rick Doyle said he had approached some elders to ask them what the site should be called. It was the tribal elders who named Ntolonapemk or My Relatives’ Place.
“This is the story of the Passamaquoddy people in Meddybemps,” said state tribal Rep. Donald Soctomah during the ceremonies.
The glacier cover of the Passamaquoddy Bay rebounded several times in the last 50,000 years, and a thin corridor of land was exposed, making it habitable. About 14,000 years ago, the massive glacier made its final retreat from the Maine coast … exposing a unique landscape.
“This was the creation of Meddybemps Lake and the Dennys River,” Soctomah said. “The Passamaquoddy have adapted to changes in the environment in order to survive.”
As a Passamaquoddy village, the men hunted and fished, women gathered plants and made birch bark containers, and children played games with each other, he said.
The tribal representative said the working village existed long before the Egyptians built their pyramids and the Mayans built their temples. “One unique aspect of this village was the amount of dug-out canoes built here, which is visible by the number of stone gouges which were found at the site,” he said.
In a 1798 report to the a boundary commission, Soctomah said, Chief Francis Joseph Neptune “described this lake as an important water corridor. Visitors from other tribes would stop by to trade stones for making tools.”
Indian Township tribal Gov. Richard Stevens told the group how he felt standing at the site of his ancestors’ home.
“Today my chest is filled with pride and honor for the Passamaquoddy people. Today my people can see through a window into their past and see the great accomplishments of our ancestors. Today we can see examples of tools and a way of life that worked with the natural world, not against it.
“We lived on this land for thousands of years, and we did not poison it,” Stevens said. “We took care of it for the generations of Passamaquoddys to come. Today my ancestors are happy,” he said, “happy that once again this sacred ground is clean.”
Patricia Meaney, director of EPA’s site remediation and restoration, called the cleanup a partnership among the tribe, state and federal government.
The artifacts found at the site will be held in trust for the Passamaquoddy at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor until the tribe’s museum at Pleasant Point is federally certified and licensed.
Arthur Spiess, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said the site represents a success story. “The archaeological work will rewrite our understanding of the remote past in eastern Maine, and it is a major contribution to science,” he said. “In addition to improving our understanding of the past, the work on the site has built many relationships for us in the present that will extend into the future.”
Spiess said the site was listed on the state’s inventory as Maine Archaeological Survey Site 96.02. “That’s not a particularly poetic designation, nor is it particularly memorable, except to those of us who had it branded into our minds by administrative work over the last couple of years,” he said. Spiess said he was pleased when the Passamaquoddy gave it the name and said all future Maine Archaeological Survey records would reflect that new name.