Dr. Nathan Hamilton Presents Research to Peabody Audience; Hopes to Educate Audiences About His Excavation Project

Archaeologist Dr. Nathan Hamilton said that he hopes “to get people to think about stewardship, which is the public understanding the past, and the significance of sites and protecting and preserving them.” Hamilton is working on achieving this goal by educating audiences about his excavation project on the Isles of Shoals, located off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Hamilton gave a presentation to the Andover community titled “An Offshore Fishing Station: Historical Archeology of the Isles of Shoals” on Tuesday evening at the Peabody Museum. Hamilton said, “What I’m trying to push for people to think about is the analysis of marine biology and remains of marine biology, to reconstruct the ecology and climate of the past.” The presentation, sponsored by the Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archeological Society, incorporated marine environmental science, historical ecology and maritime anthropology. Hamilton’s research included findings on the effects of invasive species, such as green crabs, on periwinkles. Hamilton found that the predator-prey relationship between green crabs and periwinkles caused the periwinkles’ shells to thicken. Hamilton said, “The project is really about studying the history of fish in the Gulf of Maine, the history of shellfish and looking at some of those resources that are really well-preserved in the site out there.” Hamilton and his crew excavated nearly 8,000 fish bones from the four square-meter site. From this evidence, Hamilton found that the size of cod has dramatically decreased over the past few centuries. He said when the Isles of Shoals were active fishing stations in the 1600s, fishermen caught cod that weighed up to 100 pounds. Through his research, Hamilton also made anthropological conclusions. He said that red clay pipes found at the excavation site are clear evidence of trade within the mid-Atlantic region. Hamilton divided the history of the Isles of Shoals into four main periods of occupancy, dating from the 1600s to present-day. Most of the artifacts excavated on site originated from the 1600s to the American Revolution. David Chase, Director of Stewardship, said, “[The presentation] was not only interesting in terms of the history of habitation up there, since the early 17th century, but also because the focus was also on… the impact of climate change and human resource use on all sorts of marine species.” Marla Taylor, Assistant Collections Manager of the Peabody Museum, said that she wants students to learn more about archaeology through the Peabody presentations. Chase said, “I’m happy to see that the Peabody is part of the life of the school, and continues to have some wonderful programs. It’s had wonderful programs since 1901 that are available to students, many of which are designed for students, particularly today, and so I was pleased to see that the Peabody was thriving and that this lecture was simply one indication of that.” Kevin Porter, a resident of North Andover who attended the presentation, said, “I love hearing about things having to do with archeology and historical events that happened in areas around where we live. I didn’t realize that the islands had been inhabited as early as they were, and I also was not aware that it was such a fishing based operation from those two islands.” He continued, “I think the work that he’s doing—identifying the periwinkles, dating them and sizing them from back a couple hundred years and comparing that to modern day periwinkles—is very good too.” Hamilton was selected to present to the Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archeological Society by Jules Gordon, who coordinates the chapter’s speakers committee. Hamilton is an Associate Professor of Archeology at the University of Southern Maine. Hamilton has been excavating on the Isles of Shoals for three years, and is scheduled to continue working there for four more years. Hamilton has been excavating the Maine coast for over 30 years. Hamilton also directs and teaches a Phillips Academy Summer Session course, “Introduction to Archaeology,” at the Rebecca Nurse Homstead.