Objectives & Project Stages

Principal Objectives

The Merrymeeting Bay Pioneers Project has several long-term, ongoing objectives that provide guidance for our project.

  • History  - Filling the many gaps in what is known about the European pioneers who settled in the Merrymeeting Bay area in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Historic Sites - Locating and systematically studying the lost sites of these 17th-century pioneers and helping to preserve and protect them for future generations.
  • Ecology - Discovering how the settlers interacted with the Merrymeeting Bay area ecosystem and what effects they may have had upon it over time.
  • Education - Creating periodic reports on our findings for the general public, as well as more detailed reports for scholarly and professional research.
  • Outreach -  Presenting our project to the community and engaging community members in our project at different levels of participation.

Project Progress to Date - Updated to November, 2018


We have spent a considerable amount of time processing the high-resolution LiDAR data supplied to us by Quantum Spaatial, Inc. to produce a wide range of imagery of our initial study area on Merrymeeting Bay.

Image types produced include bare-earth hillshade images, contour line images, 3D fly-through videos, cross-sectional imagery, line-of-sight areas, and others. Some of the manipulation techniques that we applied to the imagery include vegetation elimination, vertical exaggeration, changes in lighting elevation and azimuth angles, elevation color coding, georeferencing with satellite photo images, slope analysis, etc.

These and other techniques are helping to clarify and identify numerous features in the landscape that are of apparent anthropogenic (human-produced) origin. We have already discussed many of the features shown in the images and selected a number of features that we felt are typical of the types of landscape alterations that could be associated with dwellings and human activities dating to the 17th and 18th centuries.

This is an ongoing identification process as we learn more about these features through on-site visits and about how different features appear in the LiDAR-derived imagery.

In addition to the high-resolution LiDAR data that we obtained from Quantum Spatial, Inc. for a small portion of Merrymeeting Bay, we also located sources of medium-resolution LiDAR data covering much more of the Merrymeeting Bay area, plus the lower Kennebec. While medium-resolution LiDAR imagery won't show the fine detail that our high-resolution LiDAR imagery will show, it is still of great value to us, since many of the landscape alterations that we are looking for are large enough to be fairly clearly depicted on the medium-resolution imagery.

We have begun the process of converting this medium-resolution LiDAR data to imagery of more of the Merrymeeting Bay area, including Bath and the lower Kennebec as well.

We have also started looking at ways that we can create a comprehensive database of our findings that will mesh seamlessly with our LiDAR imagery via a combination of GIS software and relational database software. We are looking at three or four different ways of creating this database, taking into consideration factors such as compatibility with databases used by other researchers in the field.

Aerial photo overlooking Merrymeeting Bay from the Cook's Corner area of Brunswick.

A view of Merrymeeting Bay taken from the Cook's Corner area of Brunswick, with the lower Androscoggin River in the foreground.

Bruce Bourque and Fred Koerber examine a LiDAR-derived hillshade image of our study area. LiDAR is a remote-sensing tool that will be incorporated into all stages of our project.

Bruce Bourque and Fred Koerber examining a LiDAR-derived image.

Fieldwork Progress

As mentioned, we have identified numerous features of interest from the combination of historical research and LiDAR-derived imagery. We have also identified some features that were brought to our attention through input from property owners.

We have completed surface surveys and small-scale test excavations on three sites so far, with testing on two more sites in progress. In addition, one of the features that we noted on our LiDAR imagery had been tested earlier by a third party, and the results of that testing will be included in our project site database and reports.

A brief summary of these sites follow. The site numbers shown here are subject to change as we refine our database and reporting system. Please note that most of the specific site locations are not included here because of privacy concerns that the landowners may have.

Highly detailed reports of these sites are currently being prepared for inclusion in a restricted database, and additional general information about these and other sites will be presented on this website as we examine more sites and gather more data.

Site 1

This site is a stone-lined cellar hole that showed up clearly on LiDAR bare-earth hillshade imagery, making it easy to locate the site on the ground. Artifacts from test excavations suggest an “occupation” period of the cellar and related structure from the early 1800s through the early 1900s.

However, human “activity” at this site, based on the bore diameter of a pipe stem, appears to date to ca. 1680-1720, which falls within the early part of the Pejepscot Proprietor period in the bay area.

However, an individual artifact such as a pipe stem does not necessarily signify an “occupation”, although the possibility of an earlier occupation can’t be totally ruled out, as earlier sites could have been reoccupied later, with cleaning and enlarging that may have eliminated many earlier artifacts.

Test units at Site 1 uncovered the stone walls of the cellar, which had largely silted up with soil and debris, obscuring the rectangular shape of the cellar from view. The size and shape of the cellar was determined by locating its corners.

Many stone cellar walls and foundations from our study period were "dry-stacked," without using any mortar. Sometimes locally-abundant clay would be "pointed" between the stones to form a kind of crude mortar substitute.

Site 2

This site is a stone-lined cellar hole that showed up clearly on our LiDAR bare-earth hillshade imagery and contour imagery, along with several nearby features, including a well and a debris pile over a depression in the ground. Small-scale text excavations suggest, via artifactual evidence, an occupation period of the cellar hole and related structures dating from the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The depression under the debris pile has not yet been tested and will be considered as a candidate for future testing with its own site number.

Fred Koerber and Chris Gutscher at work on a small test excavation unit at Site 2. This test unit is in a stone-line cellar hole.

Volunteer Dick Doyle screens soil from another test excavation unit at Site 2 while Fred Koerber looks on.

Site 3

This site showed up clearly on LiDAR bare-earth hillshade imagery and contour imagery as a depression reminiscent of a silted-up cellar hole. It was located in a very prominent position that raised the possibility of its association with an early pioneer's dwelling place mentioned in researched documents. Test excavations failed to conclusively show that it was a cellar hole, although we have not ruled out the possibility of it being an unlined root cellar whose walls had collapsed and then silted up, a situation that seldom creates a clear signature. We are still in the process of analyzing the artifacts found in the text excavation units, but so far, it appears more likely to have been a working site than a dwelling.

Close-up of a LiDAR-derived hillshade bare-earth image showing a depression that has the "signature" of a cellar hole, although this does not guarantee that it is actually a cellar hole.

Chris Gutscher at work on a small half-meter test excavation unit at Site 3. Using small units allows us to test more places in a wider area at the site within the same time frame.

To help create an accurate site map, a rotating laser level is used to measure relative elevation differences between each test unit and the primary datum point of the site.

Site 4

This site showed up as a very flat area on LiDAR bare-earth imagery and contour imagery. Its location on a peninsula of land with a natural boat landing/ramp on navigable water, together with a possibility of its location being associated with a dwelling alluded to in early documents, makes it interesting to us. A surface survey showed that the area was artificially leveled, rather than being a naturally occurring level area. Evidence at the shore indicating early marine transport activity, including hand-wrought iron mooring rings, etc., supports its potential as an early dwelling or work site. It is important to remember that the earliest settlers depended almost entirely on marine transport, with some exceptions for foot paths or carrying places, so the marine transport/access characteristics of this site could be very important.

We have laid out a grid for carrying out testing on this site, but testing will have to wait until spring when the ground is fully thawed. In the meantime, some remote-sensing techniques, such as basic, non-invasive ferrous and non-ferrous detection might help determine possible activity patterns that could guide the selection of locations for test excavation units.

Chris Gutscher and Fred Koerber during a field survey of an interesting feature that consists of an artificially-flattened area adjacent to excellent water access. This site has not yet undergone testing, which will probably have to wait until the ground thaws in the coming spring.

Site 5

This location is visible on LiDAR bare-earth hillshade imagery as a flat area atop a ridge. If trees were felled, as they often were on early plantation sites, the site would enjoy wide views of the lower Androscoggin River where it widens into the broader portion of Merrymeeting Bay, as well as views of Driscoll Island and other islands. Even more intriguing is the possible association with a dwelling depicted on a 1738 map of Brunswick. While the map is not accurately drawn, it does have landforms and features than can be georeferenced to those on modern accurate maps, and if the dwelling shown on the map was drawn correctly in relation to the adjoining landforms/features, then it could be on this spot.

Interestingly, and possibly significantly, an aerial photo taken in the 1930s shows what appears to be a slight trace of a long-abandoned and overgrown road passing right next to this site, which suggests a possible dwelling location, as the Pejepscot Proprietor period saw some significant road building activity, and roads in that time frame would, more often than not, have passed next to dwellings (or dwellings would have been built next to roads).

No cellar has yet been found at this site, but initial testing produced some interesting results, including a pipe stem whose bore diameter suggests a date of 1720 to 1750, which would place it in the Pejepscot Proprietor period and in line with the above-mentioned map. Other domestic-activity artifacts, such as bovine bone, charcoal, bits of pottery, glass, and brick suggest either a dwelling or a farm structure on or nearby the site, and some stones in the first test excavation unit seem to have a linear alignment that suggests stones placed under the sill of a dwelling or other structure. So far, we have only excavated a single 1-meter test unit, and one half-meter test unit. More units may be tested in the spring of 2019.

Stones at upper left form a linear arrangement that continues beyond this test unit. Possibly used under a sill. Excavation of adjacent areas might be required to confirm this possibility.

Bone, probably bovine, found in a half-meter test unit adjacent to the other test unit. This bone was removed intact with a matrix of earth around it to keep it together for later analysis.

Site 6

This site showed up clearly on bare-earth LiDAR hillshade imaging as a depression, most likely a cellar hole, associated with the remnants of old stone walls. It was located in a flatter portion of the landowner’s property, which would have been suitable for “plantation” (farming/husbandry) activity, which could be significant due to the mention of “plantation” in early deeds associated with this land. Further research showed that this site had been tested earlier by other archaeologists. Artifacts from their testing suggest two date ranges, including an artifact assemblage suggesting a possible occupation date range of 1850-1920, as well as evidence of earlier human activity at that site (from pipe-stem dating) of ca. 1750-1800, which overlaps with the Pejepscot Proprietor period in the area.

Other Sites

We have encountered a number of potential sites in our LiDAR imagery as well as sites pointed out to us by property owners and other interested individuals. We plan to conduct on-site surface surveys and test excavations on these potential sites as time and resources permit.

Approximate Time Line of Sites Tested or In Process of Testing

The following chart is meant to provide only general date ranges of artifacts found at these sites. Further testing and analysis may be necessary to provide more accurate dates. Not all of the testing has been completed at these sites.

Outreach and Education

We have been reaching out to involve and inform the community in several different ways. To date, we have

We have presented our project to meetings of the Topsham Historical Society and the Bowdoinham Historical Society and have received a very positive response from their members. Several property owners and other individuals have informed us about the locations of possible historic features, offered information about their family history, offered to volunteer to assist us when the opportunities arise, etc.

The PowerPoint presentation that we created was used to good effect in these meetings. The presentation, which has just been updated again to reflect changes and progress in our project, is designed with adequate verbage to be used as a stand-alone presentation, which may be of interest to educators or for use in other venues.

This website has a feedback form that makes it easy for individuals to make comments, ask questions, or send us information of interest. We have already received a number of interested responses via the website form.

The website has been incrementally updated as the project progresses to summarize our findings and progress to date, as well as any changes in the scope, direction, or methodology of our project. Naturally, in the early stages of the project, there is not a huge amount of new data to report, but that is growing as we test more sites and carry out more research.

Property owners have been very cooperative about allowing us to visit their property, carry out initial survey work, and conduct test excavations. We invite property owners to participate in our testing activities, and a few have expressed interest in "getting their hands dirty."

We are finding that the LiDAR-derived imagery that we are producing is of interest to other organizations. For instance, we recently created some LiDAR imagery for a professional surveyer who is involved in researching the Ulster-Scots and their settlements in the general area, and who has also offered to provide research data for us.

We arranged a student project through Eileen Johnson at Bowdoin College, in which one of her students carried out research based on LiDAR imaging that ties in directly with our project. We served in a consulting capacity to the student during his project, and as his project was well received and appropriate for the course he was enrolled in, it seems likely that additional student projects will be upcoming.

In a combination of outreach and research, we have consulted with other amateurs and professionals in fields related to our project, gaining more insight and information in the process. We plan to draw more professionals and scholars into the project as it progresses.

One of the most important educational aspects of our project is to record our findings in a detailed, professional manner and make that data available for researchers, as well as a version of the information for the general public. To that end, we are creating detailed reports of our site testing activities, as explained below.

Site Reports - Education and Data Recording

We are currently preparing detailed reports about each site that we test. These reports are very labor intensive and time-consuming to generate. We are taking advantage of the winter season to complete the reports on all sites tested thus far. These reports will typically include the following:

The full, detailed reports that include specific site location/coordinate information will be kept in a restricted library available to qualified researchers and scholars on an appointment basis. Property owners will also receive a copy of the complete, detailed report.

More general information without specific site location information will be incrementally added to this website as the reports are completed. Note that specific site location information or coordinates may be made available on this website if a property owner is amenable to that.

Following are a few images from one report that is nearing completion. Specific site location coordinates have been removed here.

Research - An Ongoing Process

We have been carrying out ongoing research throughout the entire project, and this research process will continue indefinitely. Besides finding additional sources of information, we are also cross-referencing and comparing these sources toward achieving a more accurate understanding of pioneer life around Merrymeeting Bay and ultimately to apply our improved understanding to locating more of the lost pioneer settlements.

Please refer to the Research Approaches page for more details about our research methodology.


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