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The Swordfish Hunters
Hardcover with dj. Small format. 191 pp.
ISBN 978-159373038-3. $29.95 plus postage.
Order from: Bunker Hill Publishing, 285 River Road, Piermont, NH 03779. Tel 603-272-9221.
The author, an archaeologist who has worked at the Maine State Museum since graduating from Harvard University with a doctorate during the early 1970s, has investigated numerous prehistoric maritime sites around Penobscot Bay in the Gulf of Maine. One of the most important of these encampments is the Turner Farm site on North Haven (Island) off Rockland, Maine. There over several seasons Dr. Bourque and his students investigated a stratified, shelly midden with vestiges of the "Red Paint People."
The "Red Paint People" have long been known for burying their dead in cemeteries and including with these burials elegant ground and flaked stone tools — all enveloped by masses of bright red ochre. Dr. Bourque relegates these remains to the "Moorehead Phase" of Maine prehistory with an approximate age of 4,000 years.
Inshore marine food resources and game procured inland appear to have been adequate for the needs of Moorehead phase populations; however, perhaps for sport, perhaps for prestige, some fishermen chose to go out to sea in pursuit of dangerous swordfish. The boat captains, their crews, and perhaps the boat builders themselves shared in the adventure of swordfish hunting, and after their death they may have been commemorated by receiving burial with tools of their trade in "Red Paint" cemeteries. As Dr. Bourque argues, "Red Paint" cemeteries are too limited in distribution and too few to account for the entire Moorehead Phase population of Maine. Such cemeteries must have been special places reserved for deep-sea fishermen of high repute (and perhaps for their family members, as well).
As Dr. Bourque suggests, the ancient swordfishermen of Maine had counterparts among the maritime cultures of the Northwest Coast where bold seamen with harpoons and tackle pursued another formidable quarry — the whale.
This work is well crafted yarn by a distinguished archaeologist and is sure to find its proper place among the cherished literature of "down-east" New England.
Reviewed by Richard Michael Gramly, PhD, ASAA Organizer; 12/2012.