[PAST EVENT] Mallory Moran, Anthropology - Dissertation Defense: "Mehtaqtek, Where the Path Comes to an End”

April 24, 2020
10am - 11am
Washington Hall, (via Blackboard/Zoom)
241 Jamestown Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location

The Saint John River emerges from tributaries in the highlands of the state of Maine, arcs north and east into the province of New Brunswick, then winds southward, through vast marshlands, before it empties into the Bay of Fundy. For part of its journey, it forms the international border between Canada and the United States. This river, the Wolastoq, and its large drainage basin and tributaries, forms the heart of the homelands of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) First Nation. For many hundreds of years before contact with Europeans, and well into the 19th century, the Wolastoqiyik navigated the land and waterscapes of Wolastokuk, developing a suite of sophisticated watercraft technologies, as well as wayfinding techniques. These movement practices have left a legacy in the landscape, apparent on historic maps in placenames, and evident archaeologically in the remains of portage routes. Portages, trails or roads over which canoes and goods would be carried, connected stretches of navigable water along the coast and between interior rivers. These trails permitted travel in any direction across the Maritime Peninsula. This network of portages and waterways constitutes a cultural landscape that reflects the movement of Wolastoq’kew people over generations.

Interpreting the archaeological signatures left by traditionally mobile peoples remains a challenge for archaeologists. Trails and roads, while representing an opportunity to observe movement in the archaeological record, challenge traditional notions of the site with their large spatial scales and linear, networked forms. Portages, which shifted locations according to seasons and water conditions, add an additional layer of complexity. New interpretive frameworks are needed that account for the way Wolastoq’kew people have understood and navigated this landscape.

This dissertation addresses this problem by investigating how ideas about landscape and wayfinding are retained in and expressed through Passamaquoddy-Maliseet, the Algonquian language spoken by Wolastoqiyik. It aggregates and assesses a corpus of historic toponyms first collected at the turn of the 20th century, just as canoe travel was beginning to decline, by three scholars working in Maine and New Brunswick: Edwin Tappan Adney, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, and William Francis Ganong.

Passamaquoddy-Maliseet toponyms are richly descriptive, reflecting a detailed ecological and geographic knowledge of Wolastokuk, its seasons, tides, and flows. In addition, the toponym corpus describes an understanding of the landscape that is connected to movement through it, from the perspective of a person out on the water. This dissertation demonstrates the value of turning to language to better understand the Wolastoqwey landscape and contributes to broader anthropological conversations about the relationship between human practice and landscape conceptualization.


For more information about this event, please contact [[w|jdcarlson, Joni Carlson]]