The Isles of Shoals are a small group of islands, approximately 6 miles off the coast of New England, straddling the borders of New Hampshire and Maine. Smuttynose, the 3rd largest of these islands, has a colorful history. Known as the site for Blackbeard’s honeymoon and a shipwreck of the Spanish ship Sagunto in 1813, it is most famous for the 1873 murders of two young women; the subject of Anita Shreve’s 1997 novel, The Weight of Water.
The Discover Portsmouth Center, an ongoing TMS Architects renovation project, is currently hosting a fascinating new exhibit , Under the Isles of Shoals. Six thousand years of Smuttynose history are revealed based on 250,000 artifacts unearthed in recent years by archaeologist Nathan Hamilton of Southern Maine University and his students.
“If you think you know the Isles of Shoals, think again, says Maryellen Burke, executive director of Discover Portsmouth. While legend claimed, for example, that Native Americans did not visit the Isles of Shoals..Hamilton’s researchers discovered six prehistoric occupations dating as far back as 6,000 years ago. Diggers also found evidence of an ancient tavern littered with thousands of clay pipe fragments dating to the 1620’s. Archaeologists also turned up the remains of a “great cod” that once weighed 120 pounds.”
In addition to the historic artifacts such as rare coins, early glassware and Native American stone tools, visitors can also view some large reconstructed objects including a dugout, birch bark canoe and a replica of the porch of 1846 Mid-Ocean House of Entertainment that once stood on Smuttynose Island. Historian J. Dennis Robinson has also written a companion book about this historic “dig” called Under the Isles of Shoals: Archaeology and Discovery of Smuttynose Island that will be available in the Discover Portsmouth Center gift shop. The book is published by the Portsmouth Marine Society and features over 180 photographs and illustrations. For more information about the exhibit and Discover Portsmouth Center, please visit www.portsmouthhistory.org