Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast in the Classroom

A notable contribution to North American archaeological literature, The Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast is the first book to integrate and interpret archaeological data from the entire Atlantic Northeast, making unprecedented cultural connections across a broad region that encompasses the Canadian Atlantic provinces, the Quebec Lower North Shore, and MaineIn this post, authors M. Gabriel Hrynick and Matthew W. Betts discuss why they wrote the book and how the book can be utilized in the classroom.


By M. Gabriel Hrynick and Matthew W. Betts

Students working on a field school in Downeast Maine. Credit: M. Gabriel Hrynick

The Atlantic Northeast is a vast area composed of Atlantic Canada, Maine, and parts of Quebec. Indigenous people have lived in part of this region for nearly 13,000 years, leaving an archaeological record we report on and interpret in The Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast. This is the first synthesis of the pre-contact archaeology of the region, and we hope it will appeal to a variety of audiences ranging from members of the public to academics. We wrote this book, simply, because one on this topic didn’t exist. In the Atlantic Northeast – as we discuss in the book – there has been a sporadic history of archaeological research. Much of what has been written about the region is not easily accessible and is scattered throughout government documents, regional journals, and edited volumes.

Beyond bringing some of this information together, we feel that writing an account of this scope permitted us to emphasize a thread of our own work: how people make themselves in light of their histories. For instance, at a site in Nova Scotia, we identified a sweathouse that had been converted into a wigwam with a gendered division of space. Drawing explicitly on the past, the occupants of the wigwam incorporated structural elements of the sweathouse to create a spatial divider within the wigwam. Archaeology affords a long-term way to see how people without written records engage in these historical processes, explicitly incorporating the past to make the present. This is a perspective that fits with our perceptions of cultural continuity and dynamic regional interaction characterizing the Atlantic Northeast.

So how might faculty use The Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast? Students are by no means the only audience for this book, but we hope that the book is a valuable text in the classroom. Our first suggestion for instructors is to encourage their students to consider the kinds of historical narratives for which the book argues. We hope students recognize that archaeology is one of many ways to understand the Indigenous past of this region. As they consider Chapter 3, we hope they recognize that roughly 13,000 years of history of Indigenous occupation in this region continues today with connections to living communities.

More narrowly, we have some specific suggestions for how this book can be utilized in the classroom, organized here by topics for instructors:

  • Regional Archaeology. The most apparent place to use this book will be in classes about the pre-contact archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast! We encourage instructors to view The Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast as a starting point. The book is extensively cited, and that can help facilitate more in-depth research projects. For instance, consider having students produce annotated bibliographies about topics that interest them. This can be an opportunity for students to get to know their subject librarians, too. Consider having students write mock grant proposals – or work on their SSHRC CGS-M – proposals around some of the future research questions we outline in Chapter 12.
  • Courses Dealing with HunterGatherersIn our view, the Atlantic Northeast has been underappreciated as a hunter-gatherer case study. In the last two decades or so of hunter-gatherer studies, the notion of hunter-gatherers as a fairly homogenous category reflecting simple political organization and high mobility has drawn increasing scrutiny. Essential to this realization was the anthropological focus on cross cultural studies. Students will find that the Atlantic Northeast offers approachable hunter-gatherer case studies from right up until European contact. Particularly relevant to contemporary hunter-gatherer studies, we suggest marked shifts through time in terms of political organization, mobility, and resource use (check out Chapters 6 and 10 especially).
  • To accompany Field Schools. Both of us have taught regional field schools. Field school is an important part of any archaeological education, but devising a pre-field reading list that suits a variety of students is challenging: packets of articles are often highly technical or specific, and it is difficult to assemble packets that provide background culture historical information. We hope The Archaeology of the Atlantic Northeast will help to fill this gap. The over 80 high-quality illustrations in the book will help students to get a sense of the material culture in the region before they put their trowels in the soil.

If students find material in our book to explore further, build upon, or critique, we will view that as a mark of success. In particular, we hope that instructors will encourage their students to consider the questions we’ve offered in Chapter 12. We have called these “Grand Challenges,” a term Keith Kintigh and colleagues used in a 2014 article in American Antiquity to refer to questions of global significance that archaeological data may address. We hope that using this term reminds students that, far from being marginal, the archaeological record of the Atlantic Northeast offers a rich and underexplored record of Indigenous people interacting with other humans, their environments, and their cosmos. The cultural and ecological dynamism of the Atlantic Northeast can inform on grand challenges, and we hope this book helps students take early steps towards doing so. We want this book to help recruit and encourage our next generation of colleagues.

Students working on a field school in Downeast Maine. Credit: M. Gabriel Hrynick


Interested in finding out more about The Archaeology of the Atlantic NortheastClick here to read an excerpt from the book.

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