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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.
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.
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.