Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project
Circa 1667 Map of The Piscataqua by John Scott
What is the Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project?
The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project (OREAP) is a multidisciplinary study bringing professionals from the fields of archaeology, history, geology, geography, and the environmental sciences together with interested members of the public to reconstruct the cultural history and land use patterns of the prehistoric and historic peoples who have lived within the Oyster River and Lamprey River watersheds.
Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project General Aims - Prehistoric
For thousands of years, Native Americans made their homes along the Oyster (a river they knew as "Shankhassick") and Lamprey Rivers. Finds from the few previous excavations establish their strong presence here, but we still know surprisingly little about them, especially when compared with the more well-known sites in the Merrimack and Connecticut River Valleys. There is a great deal that we can learn. The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project seeks to reconstruct the cultural history and lifeways of these amazing, forgotten people as they adapted to life along New Hampshire's bountiful and beautiful interior coastline.
Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project General Aims - Historic
In 1623, Edward and William Hilton landed at nearby Dover Point (Hilton's Point) bringing with them the first English colonizers. It was not long before the land along the Oyster and Lamprey Rivers attracted their attention. Mill rights were granted early on and timber and salt marsh hay were important early commodities. The first homesteads were founded in the early 1630's. The land itself was purchased from a local sagamore in 1638. The settlement, Oyster River Plantation as it came to be called, grew rapidly. Townsfolk sought unsuccessfully to separate themselves from Dover on two occasions in 1669 and 1695. Oyster River Plantation was granted separate parish status in 1716. Throughout this early period, Oyster River Plantation found itself caught up in the intermittent warfare with the Native Americans and French that erupted in New England during the colonial era. The town suffered from numerous attacks, the most severe occurring in July 1694, when a large portion of the settlement was destroyed. Final division from Dover was not granted until 1732, when the town changed its name to Durham and the next phase in its evolution to its present day form began.
Detail of Oyster River Plantation
This critical early formative period of New Hampshire's history needs to be re-examined. Present historical literature, and popular conception along with it, is dominated by Pilgrim and Puritan sources. Most of the people who settled at Oyster River, indeed the vast majority of those who settled in Northern New England, were neither Pilgrims nor Puritans. They were of good Anglican stock looking to make a better life for themselves and their families by emigrating to the New World. Their settlement patterns conformed more to the dispersed layouts of the Chesapeake Region rather than the perceived norm of the quaint nucleated New England town with its meetinghouse on the village green. Most could not read or write and so left little or no trace in the documentary record. As is the case with the Native American inhabitants, the Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project seeks to restore these early settlers to heir rightful place in our history.
Why is the Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project Important?
The Piscataqua River watershed is every bit as attractive to people and commercial interests today as it was in the past. The more urbanized areas in and around Portsmouth, Newington, and Dover have seen a great deal of growth over the decade impacting many archaeological and historic sites in those communities. By and large, the Durham/ Oyster River region has not experienced the same rate of urbanization allowing many sites to remain relatively unmolested. However, this is beginning to change. The housing boom in recent years has spurred a new phase of growth. As more and more development is taking place in the Oyster River and Lamprey River watersheds, these once undisturbed sites are now in danger of being destroyed. Once these sites are gone, this important part of our heritage, this important part of who we are, will be lost forever.
The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project Research Program
The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project research program be broadly summarized as follows:
1. Site Chronology and Settlement Patterns - Radio carbon dating, the historical record, and artifact typology will be used to establish occupational sequences and settlement layouts. This will provide a framework for studying cultural change/ continuity and land use patterns.
2. Reconstruction of Economies - Economies of subsistence, manufacture, and trade will be reconstructed as a means to understanding how people made their living and interacted with other cultural groups.
3. Social Hierarchies, Politics, and Religion - The above provides a framework for assessing social structure within the community, relations with other communities, and the role of religion in everyday life.
4. Cultural Continuity/ Change - All of the above will provide a framework for the reconstruction of a cultural history for the region. Change and continuity will be assessed in relation to the larger Piscataqua Region and New England as a whole.
Execution of the Research Program
The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project will execute its research program through the following components:
1. Initial Identification - This is simply meeting with interested landowners to exchange information and see possible sites for the first time.
2. Reconnaissance Survey - This involves a thorough walkover of the property to catalog sites and work with the landowner to develop an acceptable research plan. Sites are mapped and photographed. Documentary research is conducted. Geophysical/ remote sensing and some sub-surface testing may be performed. A preliminary report may be generated.
3. Excavation - This is actual excavation of the site to recover artifactual and architectural data. This may include OREAP-SCRAP field schools where permissible.
4. Analysis - This is the analysis and interpretation of the data collected during all previous steps.
5. Public Outreach/ Release of Findings - This step is carried on throughout the process. Reports will be written and released. Educational programs and OREAP-SCRAP field schools may be conducted. Where landowners are interested programs of preservation may be discussed.
Bunker Garrison Built Circa 1652
We Need Your Help
The Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project needs your help in order to be successful. Landowners with possible sites and those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact the project director. Tax-deductible donations may be made to the Oyster River Environs Archaeology Project through SCRAP and are greatly appreciated. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.