Prehistoric Shell Middens

Old Whaleback Midden

What’s a shell midden? It’s a pile of shells created by repeated harvests of shellfish in one location. While shells make up the bulk of our middens, these deposits also include other discarded items such as fish and animal bones and even stones used to break open bones for marrow. Everywhere you travel on the river you are likely to encounter small and large middens deposited by the Native Americans who once populated these shores. Some middens are as recent as 300 years, while others have been created over a period of many hundreds of years.

The upper Damariscotta River is famous for two enormous oyster shell heaps known as the Whaleback and Glidden middens created between 2,200 and 1,000 years ago. Once up to 30 feet deep and covering several acres, much of these middens was removed in the late 1880’s to supply a factory to process the shells into chicken feed. Only a small portion of Whaleback remains today and is preserved for the public to see.