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Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site

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This half mile interpretive trail takes visitors on a short hike along the shore of the Damariscotta River where historic shell mounds created by native people over a thousand year period can still be seen.
Trail Activity
0.50 miles, Loop
Dirt/Forest Floor, Gravel/Crushed Stone, Grass


The trail is a half mile loop that takes hikers past an apple orchard and along the east bank of the Damariscotta River. At this site, remnants of an historic shell midden can be seen and the trail loops back around to the trail head.

Shell middens, also called "shell heaps" and "shell mounds," are scrap piles left by prehistoric peoples, usually in coastal areas, consisting of discarded oyster shells along with related cultural materials, such as bones, ceramic pots, and stone tools. Ranging in size from a thin scattering of shells along the shore, to deep layered accumulations like the ones found here, middens show thousands of years of annual migrations of Native Americans. Evidence from these shell middens show that these people harvested oysters in late winter/early spring probably coinciding with the annual mid May migration of alewives. During the rest of the year, these natives traveled inland to farm and hunt and there is no evidence of permanent settlements at these sites.

The shells contain calcium carbonate, creating an alkaline environment. Am alkaline environment reduces soil acidity and thus preserves animal remains over long periods of time giving archaeologists valuable clues as to the climate, season, hunting patterns, and other conditions existing during periods when the site was occupied. Artifacts, such as the ceramic pots and stone tools, help determine when middens were created and enable us to better understand the way of life and technologies of the people that built them.

The upper Damariscotta River is famous for its enormous oyster shell heaps, called middens. Native Americans created the middens over a period of about a thousand years, between 2,200 and 1,000 years ago.

This site once contained a massive shell heap named Whaleback because of its shape and was one of the largest in the area. Much of this midden was removed in the late 1880's to supply factories with shells for the manufacture of Oyster Shell Grit which was used as chicken feed. As a result, only a small portion of the Whaleback remains today.

Visit the Whaleback Shell Midden Historic Site page on BPL's website.

Other Information

Please observe the carry-in, carry-out policy of this property to ensure it can be enjoyed by future visitors. Please stay on the designated trail and respect the privacy of our neighbors. Visitors should also take precautions when hiking on the property to prevent Lyme disease. Please check for ticks on yourself and your pet after walking along the trails. The Division of Parks and Public Lands has partnered with the Damariscotta River Association for the management of the property.

Trail Manager

Visit Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands online for more information or contact:

Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Southern Region Parks Manager
107 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Phone: (207) 624-6080

Nearby Events


Trail Tips

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Be aware of and limit the noise you and your group generate. Enjoy the sounds of nature.

Trailhead Information

From North: Coming from the north on US Route 1 in Damariscotta, turn right at Belvedere Road, and follow it 0.1 mile to stop sign. Turn right and follow US Route 1 Business/Main Street another 0.5 mile. The parking lot and trailhead are on right.

From South: Coming from the south on US Route 1 in Damariscotta, turn left at Belvedere Road, and follow it 0.1 mile to stop sign. Turn right and follow US Route 1 Business/Main Street another 0.5 mile. The parking lot and trailhead are on right.

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