There is a huge pile of shells near the Ocean Gateway in Portland, Maine. Why?

One person suggested that it might be the beginning of a midden to help stop erosion from all the storms.

Lori Voornas
Lori Voornas

Maybe it's a midden. Wait, what's a midden?

According to UMaine,

Shell middens are cultural spaces located on the mainland and island coasts, and were created by Maine’s indigenous people during thousands of years of coastal occupation.

Middens are actually really cool, and found throughout Maine. Middens can be composed of shells (oyster, clam, mussel) and faunal remains (mammal, fish, bird, and reptile bones and teeth). Botanical remains (primarily seeds) are also preserved in middens. On rare occasions, some middens will have old tool parts or parts of pottery.

The Maine Midden Minders help protect Maine's middens.

Maine’s coastal heritage spans thousands of years, and began with indigenous people. They lived off the land, and shell middens are a record of their living! However, these valuable archives are disappearing as sea levels rise, and changing weather patterns impact the Maine coast. Maine Midden Minders are working with volunteers to conserve and document these middens.

Lori Voornas
Lori Voornas

So chances are, this is NOT a midden, but just a large dumping of shells.

Where is Maine's biggest midden?

Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site is an 11-acre property owned by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands in Damariscotta. It once held a massive oyster shell heap (or midden), formed over 1,000 years by Native Americans. The shells were processed for chicken feed in the late 1800s, leaving behind just a fraction of the original mounds. A swinging bench by the shore of the Damariscotta River gives you a great view of one of the largest intact middens on the East Coast, the Glidden Midden, just across the river.

Whatever the heap of shells is for, it was nice to learn a little about the history of Maine through what are also known as trash mounds.

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