Maine Mysteries: The Red Paint People

The Red Paint People, who disappeared from Maine thousands of years ago, get their name from the dye found in their graves

BUCKSPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A historical vanishing act is no magic trick.

Five thousand years ago, along coastal Maine from the Androscoggin River up to Mount Desert Island, a group of native humans thrived. They are known most commonly today as the Red Paint People and they existed up until about 3,800 years ago when they vanished from history.

Emeritus Chief Archeologist for the Maine State Museum, Dr. Bruce Bourque, has painstakingly studied the ancient people. A unique culture, they hunted huge swordfish 1,500 years before the Japanese did. They traded distances over thousands of miles. And they fiercely kept to themselves.

What we do know about the Red Paint People, largely comes from what was found in their graves. And strangely, every grave discovered has contained mass amounts of crushed red hematite, but no one has any idea what significance it held. When farmers and construction workers accidently began to find the graves in the late 19th century, they described the ground as bleeding when pierced by their shovels. 

Bucksport librarian Emeric Spooner has also had a fascination with the ancient tribe that once lived on his town's shores. He says early residents would mix the hematite with seal oil to make red paint. 
 
Theories about what happened to the Red Paint People range from being absorbed into other tribes or moving on when the swordfish population was depleted. Tools and artifacts can still be found in the layers of shell middens on the shorelines. But erosion is quickly sweeping away the evidence of the Red Paint People. We might never truly understand what happened to them.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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