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Brian Scott Robinson - In Memoriam
Arthur Spiess

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 10 (2017): ii–iv

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Journal of the North Atlantic Brian Scott Robinson - In Memoriam 2017 Special Volume 10 ii Brian Robinson (b. 23 February 1953) lost a battle with pancreatic cancer on 27 October 2016. As an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine (Orono), his research focused on coastal adaptations, response to climate change, and hunter-gatherer cultures of the Northeast from the Paleoindian to the Contact periods. Brian had also done much work on Alaskan Pleistocene and early Holocene collections with Fred West of the Peabody Essex Museum, so he had the “big picture” of the peopling of the Americas in mind. Years of working in Vermont provided region-wide experience and perspective. While at the University of Maine, Brian taught both undergraduates and graduate students. He was an excellent teacher at both levels, especially beloved by his graduate students as a mentor for his style of sharing his knowledge and intellectual excitement as he provided direction. He worked closely on many archaeology projects with Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and taught tribal members as undergraduates in University field work and the classroom. He collaborated with the Tribes on research and fieldwork design that has benefitted and incorporated both tribal and professional understanding of the last few thousand years. Brian worked well with avocational archaeologists, and believed that they had much to contribute. He also demonstrated that museum collections and older excavation records could contribute much to current archaeology. His meticulous work over 20 or more years with Bill Eldridge and the other “Bull Brook boys”, their memories, and their excavation records in reconstructing a clearly organized sitesettlement pattern for the Paleoindian Bull Brook site will be a legendary example of drawing anthropological meaning from old archaeological data (Robinson et al. 2009). As with many of Brian’s projects, graduate students were given critical parts to play in the research. Much of Brian’s research had a coastal or Gulf of Maine focus. Even his Bull Brook Paleoindian work included a coastal caribou-hunting scenario as a hypothesis (Robinson 2002). As an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, he began work on coastal archaeology with Charles Bolian. He then Brian Scott Robinson - In Memoriam Arthur Spiess* North American East Coast Shell Midden Research Journal of the North Atlantic *Maine Historic Preservation Commission, 65 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333; arthur.spiess@maine.gov. 2017 Special Volume 10:ii–iv Journal of the North Atlantic Brian Scott Robinson - In Memoriam 2017 Special Volume 10 iii took on the excavation of the Seabrook Marsh (Late Archaic) site (Robinson 1985a). He subsequently completed a preliminary archaeological survey of Scarborough Marsh in southern Maine (Robinson 1985b), again finding preserved formerly terrestrial sites and features in the intertidal zone. Returning to Seabrook Marsh recently, he introduced his graduate students to this ca. 4000-year-old site with preserved swordfish sword and subsistence remains, now partially inundated by sea-level rise. Working with avocational and older museum collections and obtaining new radiocarbon dates, Brian spent more than a decade puzzling out the chronology and environmental and social factors that animated Archaic ceremonial traditions around the Gulf of Maine watersheds, the so-called “Red Paint” cemetery phenomenon, now called the Moorehead Burial Tradition. This work resulted in his Ph.D. Dissertation (2001), and several articles (see Robinson 1996b, 2006), and continues in the hands of several graduate students. Drawing on his luck and skill in returning to old excavation records, he recently returned to limited excavation at the Waterside, Jones Cove, and Nevin sites on the coast of Maine. These 3 sites contain Moorehead phase Late Archaic components originally excavated more than 60 years ago. Relocating the exact grid (including finding a basketball-sized rock in the bottom corner of an excavation square profile at the Waterside site), he and his graduate students have obtained previously unexcavated samples for “modern” fine screening, radiocarbon dating, soil micromorphology, and other analyses. This research directly ties the old, larger excavation samples to the best of recent archaeological lab work and stratigraphy. His work with the Nevin site included mentoring a graduate thesis by a Penobscot tribal archaeologist re-examining some of the sensitive associated funerary objects (burial items), and collaborative work in 2015 with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to assess remaining portions of the site as part of site protection/avoidance for abutting road and bridge reconstruction. When he focused on the Ceramic/Woodland period, Brian’s attempt to draw anthropological meaning was steady, with the additional satisfaction of drawing on Maine tribal ethnographic information and continuing traditional knowledge. Looking at penecontemporary Ceramic/Woodland triangular versus side/corner-notched points from coastal sites, Brian noted a substantial shift in frequency between western and eastern coastal Maine, postulating a possible cultural difference (1996a). This perhaps underappreciated observation contrasts with a coastal/interior ethnographic divide postulated on the basis of Ceramic period Z versus S cordage twist direction as shown on ceramic vessels (Petersen 1996). The west versus east coastal stone point distribution matches ethnographic data, while the postulated coast versus interior ceramic difference does not. Working primarily along the Downeast Maine coast, in close collaboration with the Passamaquoddy Tribe, Brian and his students have examined the details of construction of archaeologically preserved wigwam house floors, as well as noting some non-random deposition of right- versus left-side seal bullae (ear bones) and sea mink mandibles among faunal remains. Both topics contribute to understanding the organization of domestic space and labor, and possibly to ritual retention or disposal of certain faunal remains. Perhaps most importantly as a bridge between archaeology and tribal traditional culture, joint Passamaquoddy–University of Maine excavation and analysis of shell midden sites located near or behind tableaux of bedrock petroglyphs around Machias Bay was ongoing at Brian’s passing. Some of the archaeological features encountered were not mundane, such as a deep pit with an upright elliptical small boulder placed deliberately at the bottom. Certainly, routine habitation functions were occurring in these sites, but with the addition of behavior that somehow might be tied to the sacredness of the petroglyphs. As part of a general interest in fish as a subsistence base on Gulf of Maine drainages for both the Ceramic and Archaic periods, and his concept that certain localities had both special functional and social significance, Brian continued work on the Sebasticook fish weir site begun by James B. Petersen (d. 2005). This work includes more radiocarbon dating of fish weir stakes, and description of non-weir artifacts. We will not see those results until someone picks up the work again. An esteemed colleague who shared his thoughts and preliminary research in long dialogues and email exchanges, he was often an innovative thinker who added anthropological or behavioral insight to archaeological data. Because of his intellectual rigor and deliberation in moving from archaeological evidence to conclusions about human behavior, and working to consider the theories and data of his colleagues, sometimes the process took years. It was always worth the wait for those of us who knew about his various projects, and we are left with wonderful insight but an unfinished process on several lines of research. We deeply regret losing Brian, as a friend, teacher, and colleague who was leading the way forward on many intellectually challenging paths. Journal of the North Atlantic Brian Scott Robinson - In Memoriam 2017 Special Volume 10 iv Literature Cited Petersen, J.B. 1996. Fiber industries from northern New England: Ethnicitiy and technological traditions during the Woodland Period. Pp. 100–119, In J.B. Petersen (Ed.). A Most Indispensible Art: Native Fiber Industries from Eatsern North Amreica, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN, USA. Robinson, B.S. 1985a. The Nelson Island and Seabrook Marsh Sites: Late Archaic, marine-oriented people on the central New England Coast. Occasional Publications in Northeastern Anthropology (9)1. Robinson, B.S. 1985b. An intertidal archaeological survey of the Scarborough Marsh. Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 25(1):17–40. Robinson, B.S. 1992. Early and Middle Archaic Period occupation in the Gulf of Maine region: Mortuary and technological patterning. Pp. 63–116, In B.S. Robinson, J.B. Petersen, and A.K. Robinson (Eds.). Early Holocene Occupation in Northern New England. Occasional Publications in Maine Archaeology, Number 9. Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Augusta, ME, USA. Robinson, B.S. 1996a. Projectile points, other diagnostic things, and culture boundaries in the Gulf of Maine Region. Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 36:2:1–24. Robinson, B.S. 1996b. A regional analysis of the Moorehead burial tradition: 8500–3700 B.P. Archaeology of Eastern North America 24:95–148. Robinson, B.S. 2001.Burial rituals, groups, and boundaries on the Gulf of Maine: 8600–3800 B.P. Ph.D. Dissertation. Brown University, Providence, RI, USA. Robinson, B.S. 2006. Burial ritual, technology, and cultural landscape in the far Northeast: 8600–3700 B.P. Pp. 341–381, In D. Sanger and M.A.P. Renouf (Eds.). The Archaic of the the Far Northeast. University of Maine Press, Orono, ME, USA. Robinson, B.S. 2012. The Bull Brook Paleoindian site and Jeffrey’s Ledge. Pp. 182–190, In C. Chapdelaine (Ed.). Late Pleistocene Archaeology and Ecology in the Far Northeast. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX, USA. Robinson, B.S., J.C. Ort, W.A. Eldridge, A.L. Burke, and B.G. Pelletier. 2009. Paleoindian aggregation and social context at Bull Brook. American Antiquity 74(3):423–447.