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Red paint people of maine c561179e

Red Paint People of Maine

Many of Maine’s rivers, mountains, and other geological formations bear the name of our lands’ Indigenous ancestors, such as Penobscot, Sagadahoc, and Damariscotta. However, an even more ancient group of Indigenous peoples pre-date these tribes. Scattered along the coast of Maine are the burial sites of the Red Paint People. Named after their burials, the Red Paint People used large quantities of red ochre to cover both the bodies of the dead and the goods buried within the graves. For centuries, archaeologists have been fascinated by these elaborate burial sites, yet very little information has been discovered about these elusive people.

Who Were They

 The Red Paint People flourished between 3,000 BC and 1,000 BC and lived along the coasts and rivers of New England and Atlantic Canada. Due to their close proximity to water, the Red Paint Peoples’ diet consisted mainly of seafood, but like many Indigenous tribes, they also gathered and ate nuts, fruits, and berries. 

A noteworthy accomplishment of these people is that they were able to construct boats and tools capable of catching swordfish. Swordfish have been known to grow up to 15ft long and can easily weigh well over 1,000 lbs. Even with modern technology, it is still considered a challenging task to catch a swordfish. The Red Paint People could do this without the radar, steel-reinforced fishing rods, and high powered boats that anglers use today.

Their Burial Sites

When farmers first stumbled upon the graves of the Red Paint People, they described the ground as “bleeding” when struck by their shovels. This “blood” was actually copious amounts of ochre. Not knowing that the ochre belonged to sacred gravesites, the farmers mixed it with seal oil to create paint. Ochre is not naturally found in Maine, so it widely speculated that this ingredient must have been of significance to the Red Paint People as they were willing to transport such large quantities of the ingredient over a considerable distance. What this significance was, though, has yet to be discovered.

Archaeological Investigation

The first farmers stumbled upon the gravesites in 1842, but it wasn’t until 1892 that Charles Willoughby of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University decided to investigate the findings. This expedition caught the attention of Warren K. Moorehead, who carried out more excavations and published their site reports from 1912 to the 1920s. Moorehead was the first to describe the Red Paint People as older than the current Indigenous tribes. His claim was disputed until radiometric dating proved him correct.

What Happened to the Red Paint People?

The Red Paint People were advanced for their time. As mentioned, they were capable of catching dangerous swordfish, crafting tools, and their trading range stretched from Lake Ontario to Labrador, Canada. An early hypothesis theorized that a tsunami wiped them out, but this has since been debunked. The current theories are less dramatic and suggest thatch Red Paint People simply merged with other tribes or picked up and moved somewhere else.

Maine’s coast is subject to constant erosion, leaving little behind of the Red Paint People. Archaeologists are still hopeful that they will discover more about this ancient civilization, but for now, the Red Paint People remain shrouded in mystery.