BELFAST — Steve Hutchings, a former Belfast Area High School teacher, has a hypothesis that Belfast and its waterfront were a hotbed of activity in prehistoric times.

The retired environmental science and math teacher has been researching artifacts found near his home on the Passagassawakeag River for the last six or seven years. Hutchings will share his finds, and his theory, in a six-week course through Belfast Senior College via Zoom.

Even with seasonal settlements, he said, there are many stone and bone hand tools to be found. “It’s like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle,” Hutchings said, “and you have 50 pieces and it’s trying to figure out what the picture is — that’s the fun part.”

The name “Passagassawakeag” itself loosely translates to “spearing sturgeon by torch light,” Hutchings said. “You’ve got migrating fish such as herring, sturgeon, salmon, striped bass, and you have narrows.” The narrows found upstream provided a perfect area to place fish traps.

Hutchings theorizes that nomadic tribes would travel the rivers leading to the coast in search of clams and fish. Belfast would be one of the first places they would stop, he said, noting that the area was a great food source. It is like coming to Maine, he said, where one of the first places to stop along Interstate 95 is Kittery Trading Post or L.L. Bean.

“You’ve got the Penobscot, and all travel is by river,” he said. “You’re going to come to the coast for food, so you throw the family in the canoe and come down the river.” Sandy Point in Stockton Springs might also have been a stopping point for early native people, Hutchings said.

Adding to his hypothesis that there is a great probability of early activity in Belfast is the fact that the next big river is the Duck Trap, or further south, the St. George River in Tenants Harbor. “You’ve got 40 miles of coastline before the next big river,” he said.

He displayed a chipping tool made from a sharp stone with one side that is smooth. The implement, he explained, is made from Perry agate, a stone that is not native to Maine and is only found near the shore in the Washington County town of Perry. “How did this get here?” he said. Taking the question a step further, one can hypothesize about trade. “Now you’re in the realm of ‘who knows?’”

Hutchings also showed a rhyolite stone, round with an area that fit close to the curvature of his palm. The stone, which was used to grind or sharpen arrowheads, is not plentiful in this part of the state, which also leads him to wonder how it got here. “It’s a unique rock,” he said.

Hutchings said his interest in archeology started about 40 years ago, when he was living on Deer Isle. “It’s a bit isolated,” he said, “so I started exploring and discovered on the bank of the shore an 18-inch layer of shells.” This discovery he called a “shell midden,” a place where early inhabitants processed clams for consumption and left large quantities of debris that can yield many treasures, including arrowheads.

From his vantage point near the upper bridge in Belfast Bay, Hutchings has also discovered several man-made quays or platforms where early settlers worked on ships. “There’s a lot of that on our side of the river,” he said.

Hutchings grew up in the historic seaport town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he said he had no choice but to develop a love of history. He has a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and a master’s in education. He moved to Midcoast Maine in 1976 and retired after 40 years as an educator, having taught at both Belfast Area and Medomak Valley high schools.

Hutchings said being a teacher, he is geared to kids and that anything he finds is to be shared. His has donated his artifacts to the Belfast Historical Society and Museum and has also exhibited a display at BAHS. “I’m just having fun and trying to prove my hypothesis,” Hutchings said.

After turning 70, he was having so much fun finding these artifacts that he decided to create the course. “That, and I love teaching,” he added.

The course is offered through Belfast Senior College starting Tuesday, Jan. 18, and will run through Feb. 22, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Zoom. To sign up or see other courses available, visit