Manana Island is located ten miles off the coast of south central Maine next to Monhegan Island. Manana is the smaller of the two islands and is located on the west of Monhegan. Manana Island can not be discussed without a brief look at what took place on Monhegan Island. Long before the Europeans first set up a fishing station in the 1600’s on the island local Native Americans had done likewise.
Fig. 1 - USGS Map of Manana and Monhegan Islands
I walked over this island from end to end but did not have time to walk every trail. No cairns were found on it. The museum which I also missed visiting has a collection of Native American artifacts on display that were collected on the island. A letter from the island’s historical society stated that Arthur Speiss the Maine State Archaeologist had seen the collection and gave them a brief synopsis.
1. Bifircate Base Point – Early Archaic 8,000 years ago
2. Felsite Point – Moorhead Phase (Archaic)
3. Barbed Bone Spear, a Bone Awl, a Ground Beaver Incisor, many Sinkers, Abrasive Stones, Slate Spear Point fragments, Gouges, Axes, Scrappers, Choppers, Shaft Abraders, Hammerstones, Grindstones, and a Susquehannah Broad Point – Late to Transitional Archaic 3,400 years ago
4. Side Felsite Point – Ceramic Period 1,000 to 1,200 years ago
“From all recorded accounts, archaeologists believe the island was used as a seasonal base during the late summer and autumn months while the codfish and swordfish were abundant, about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.” This statement was from Tracie Bracy, curator of the Monhegan Historical & Cultural Museum (Letter: Sept. 25, 2002). It reflects the bulk of the Native American artifacts that date to the Late to Transitional Archaic Period. It does not take into account the Early Archaic and Middle Ceramic period which are poorly represented but none the less represented showing the Native Americans went out to the island before and after the main fishing period.
In the book Monhegan The Cradle of New England by Ida Sedgwick Proper (1930) she stated “that there were numerous Indians quartered [camped] on the Island [Monhegan] is recorded by Gorges in his Briefe Relation, among whom was undoubtedly Samoset.” (page 136). Gorges was in the area in the early 1600’s. In turn, this places Native Americans on Monhegan in the Late Ceramic / Proto-Historic Period.
Native Americans went out to Monhegan Island. Manana Island is a short row boat ride across the harbor from Monhegan Island.
In September of 2002 I made a visit to Manana Island to see the petroglyph [click here for related article] which I wrote an article on that was published in the Maine Archaeological Bulletin Vol. 44, Spring 2004 (see website for copy of article). While there I found the island was covered with cairns.
The island is ¾’s of a mile long by ½ mile wide. Its length is oriented approximately north – south and width east – west. The island is a rounded knoll with a raised outcrop on the west side and a slightly raised north end. On the west side (open ocean side) there is a natural wide gulley paralleling the north end. On a flat short ledge above the gulley is the petroglyph. The island is covered with long grass and short brushes around the edges. A spring located in the middle of the west side was stone lined and shaped into a rectangular pool.
The island has several buildings. One is an abandoned 1960’s house on the east side. On the west side the Coast Guard built several buildings. The house, a storage shed, and fog horn building are still standing. In addition there is the long boat rail/launch on the east side which has been turned into a raised wooden walkway for visitors. In the gulley area near the Coast Guard buildings there are several piles of stone with rubbish mostly an assortment rusted metal parts presumably from the Coast Guard era. Some of these stone piles are on exposed bedrock surfaces and may be cairns.
Two Cairn Fields
Geographically there is the short raised north end, and the long undulating middle section / south end. On the north end there is a small quantity of small cairns. Cairn designs found here are On Top of Stone and Split Stone. The On Top of Stone cairns each have a few stones that do not cover the whole base stone. Plus, not all the exposed bedrock surfaces and boulders have cairns. The petroglyph is on a ledge face on the north end. It faces south and is beside the gulley which is angled southwest out to the open ocean. Anyone visiting the island may want to take a compass reading along the face of the petroglyph to access a possible sunset alignment.
The middle section / southeastern end form the second section. The section is denoted by the cairn with the large triangular slab leaning against it. The cairn is on the south side of the boat rail/launch. To the north of the cairn on the other side of the boat launch note there are a few exposed areas of bedrock among the grass that do not have cairns. This forms a dividing line between the two areas. Starting at the cairn with the triangular stone all exposed bedrock which look like in-ground boulders level with the ground’s surface contain a cairn for as far as you can see. I estimated between 50 and 75 cairns but did not have time to make a count. This pattern continues until you reach the southwestern corner of the island. There the cairns are scattered among numerous exposed bedrock surfaces without cairns. Cairn designs in the middle section / southeastern end On Top of Stone, One Stone on Top, Split Stone and Leaning Against Boulder. The striking characteristic of the On Top of Stone cairns in this section is each cairn completely covers the base stone it is on. The cairns range from large (10’L) to medium (7’- 4’L) to small (2’-3’). Short rows of boulders abutting each other 7’L x 2’W on the ground may be features. On the east side of the island near the water’s edge (field notes) and near the 1960’s house (? memory) there is a wire fence enclosed circular feature and an enclosure. The circular feature looked like the top of a well shaft but it only had a single layer of stone which made it unsuitable for a well. Above ground it was 2’H x 1’W x 3’Dia. (interior) and was ½ filled with stones. Ten feet away was a U shaped enclosure. The enclosure opened to 320 degrees NW. It had a few scattered stones inside. Size: Interior 3’L x 2’W. A couple of cairns were located below these structures at the waters edge.
Occupants on Manana Island
1. The Coast Guard built a fog signal station on the island in 1855 which was staffed until the 1980’s.
2. Ray Eugene Phillips lived as a hermit on Manana from 1930 to 1975 and maintained a flock of sheep there.
3. In the 1960’s a hippy and his family built the house on the east side and lived on the island for a couple of years.
Analysis of the Cairns
The cairns are divided into two distinctly different types of cairn fields. The north cairn field has a small quantity of small cairns and the petroglyph. The middle/south cairn field has a large quantity of large cairns, a cairn with a triangular standing stone, a spring, an enclosure and a circular structure. The basic differences in the cairn fields preclude that any of the Euro-American occupants built the cairns. If an island resident like Mr. Phillips who maintained sheep on the island had built the cairns he would not have made the distinction between the small scattered cairns on the north end and the large cairns on every exposed bedrock surface on the middle/southeast section. Furthermore, the petroglyph which has been identified as Native American and the enclosure must be taken into consideration. The integrating of the petroglyph and enclosure into their respective cairn fields along with the differences in the On Top of Stone cairns, the triangular stone leaning against the cairn and the additional cairn designs indicates the cairns were built by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes. The small cairn field on the north end can be interpreted as a shaman area where one or two people went for a specialized ceremony. The large cairn field on the middle section / south end can be interpreted as a community area where a group of people gathered for the main ceremony.
Fig. 3 On top of boulder cairn with triangle standing stone
Fig. 4 - Column like cairn
Fig. 5 - Overall view showing the middle / south cairn field
Fig. 6 Elongated cairn on stone
Fig. 8 - More elongated cairns
Fig. 9 - View of north cairn field