Illustration by Governor John White circa 1580 (Virginia)

Illustration by Governor John White circa 1580 (Virginia)

Archaeology Workshop - June 8, 9 & 10
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Fish Weir Workshop

June 8 - 10, 2018 

Cape Porpoise Harbor - Kennebunkport, Maine

In this 3-day workshop you will construct a simulated fish weir from Cattail as an archaeological experiment. Cattail will be harvested using stone tools and the weir built entirely of the plant’s stalks, leaf blades and shealth. After construction, the weir will be monitored to assess the feasibility that Cattail was used as a building material for Precontact Period Native American fish weirs.

Research conducted by Cape Porpoise Archaeological Alliance (CPAA) suggests that certain rock formations located in the intertidal zone of Cape Porpoise could be the remains of Precontact Period Native American fish weirs. If so, what were they made of? Additional CPAA investigations speculate that Cattail a traditional Native American food source, might also have doubled as a building material for fish weir construction. This experiment could help us better understand the fishing techniques of Cape Porpoise’s First Americans. 

Workshop details:

When:  June 8 – 10, 2018

Where:  Cape Porpoise Harbor.  Participants will meet at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust’s headquarters for day one of the workshop and will travel to the site as a group.

Class Size:  The workshop is limited to 12 participants.

Cost:  $75 per person

What to bring:  Water, lunch, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, shoes that can get wet, comfortable clothes that can get dirty, a windbreaker. 

Questions:  Please email Tim Spahr, our Principle Investigator who will be leading the workshop.  You can contact Tim at


Fish Weirs - Background

A fish weir is defined as an obstruction placed in tidal waters, or wholly or partially across a river, to direct the passage of, or trap fish.

Native American weirs were observed and recorded in the logs of 16th and 17th century English explorers. In 1580, Governor John White illustrated weirs in his paintings of coastal Virginia. Thomas Hariot, who traveled with White, described these weirs as being “made of reedes which in that countrey are very strong”.  While under sail between Cape Cod and Cape Porpoise, John Brereton chronicled weirs in his 1602 ship’s log. The weirs Hariot describes in Virginia were most likely built of Giant Cane.  Giant Cane is an American bamboo with a growing range from northern Florida to Texas, Ohio and northern New Jersey. This very strong reed, however, did not grow in New England.