Museum “clam dig” sheds light on ancient Mi’kmaq

July 28, 2010

Posted on: 14/07/2010

Museum “clam dig” sheds light on ancient Mi’kmaq   

Gatineau, Quebec, July 14, 2010 — Some long-buried secrets of Atlantic Canada’s First Peoples are being unearthed this summer at a unique archaeological dig in Nova Scotia led by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. A team of professional archaeologists and their student helpers are excavating an ancient mound of sea shells along the province’s South Shore, searching for information about prehistoric Mi’kmaq. 

The clam, mussel and oyster shells are dinner remains from the distant past, tossed into a garbage heap centuries ago. Known as shell middens, these trash heaps can be archaeological treasure troves because the calcium carbonate in the shells preserves other materials such as bone and antler, which usually dissolve in the region’s acidic soil.

The E’se’get (Mi’kmaw for clam dig) Archaeological Project is also providing archaeological training and a traditional camp experience for Mi’kmaq high school students, and an educational experience for local residents and vacationers.  
“I’m delighted by the level of community interest and involvement in the project,” said Dr. Matthew Betts, Curator of Atlantic Provinces Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. “This is a wonderful opportunity to directly engage and inform local community as we excavate the site and unearth the history that lies in their own backyard.”

The dig is located in Thomas Raddall Provincial Park on the shores of Port Joli Harbour, a shallow bay first occupied by Mi’kmaq up to 2,000 years ago. The shell midden contains large quantities of preserved mammal, fish and bird bones, plus human artifacts such as stone tools, stone flakes and fragmented pottery.

Partners and collaborators in this multi-year project include the Acadia First Nation, the provincial Department of Natural Resources, the University of New Brunswick, the Nova Scotia Museum and the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative. Progress on the dig and other information about the project is available online through the E’se’get Archaeology Project Blog at

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