Archaeological dig begins at Head of Tide Park in Topsham

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TOPSHAM — An archaeology team began digging into the earth around Head of Tide Park on Monday to see what mysteries of human civilization they can unravel at the historic site on the Cathance River.

Eric Lahti, a licensed Maine guide archaeologist, is working on the project with students from the Cathance River Education Alliance’s Environmental Youth Leadership Initiative.

“We’re working on what appears to be the footprint of a house, or some kind of a structure,” Lahti said, adding that the team had so far found a lot of 19th century glazed ceramics, many bricks and some iron.

Lahti said he hoped to find artifacts dating back to the beginning of European American history on the site, which goes back three centuries, and also evidence of a prior American Indian presence.

“I’m sure, based on my experience, that a location like this, with the falls at the head of tide, that there would have been Native American activity here,” said Lahti, who does survey work part time for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. “But it’s been industrialized, bulldozed, rebuilt, rescraped. I think there’s very little natural surface left here. If we find it it’s going to be in very little small pockets or in soil that’s been redeposited.”

The project, which includes about 15 students from Morse, Brunswick and Mt. Ararat high schools, is scheduled to conclude next week.

The dig is a service learning initiative being funded through part of a $52,000 State Farm grant. The approximately $5,000 being spent covers the hiring of Lahti and a small stipend for the students, some of whom are also volunteering their time, according to Rick Wilson, executive director of the education alliance.

“It’s great,” Wilson said. “It’s been a really cool experience. The kids are into it.”

Aside from finding nothing but a thumbtack – with her thumb – in the first two holes she dug, Brunswick High student Audrey Cross said that she and Haley Postin of Mt. Ararat High were now finding a lot of brick and pottery, as well as iron materials and window glass.

Wilson said the project “brings a larger story of the Head of Tide Park, and tells that story. That’s the most powerful thing to me, is here you have this park, that’s going to be a park of the public’s enjoyment, and it’s nice to be able to add to that story … you can almost shut your eyes and imagine the things that went down at the falls, given that water travel was your primary source of transportation.”

The site in previous years was home to a feldspar mill, and before that a lumber mill.

Once the diggings have concluded, the materials will be analyzed and stored, Lahti said. Ideally, he added, the artifacts could become part of an exhibit at the park or at the education alliance’s science center.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

Sidebar Elements

Archaeology dig.jpgChristabel Frye and Zachary Shaw, who will be juniors at Morse High School this fall, sift through dirt during an archaeological dig on Tuesday at the Head of Tide Park site in Topsham. (Lear photo)

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.