Mummified Remains of Stone-Age Man found in Forest Reservation
‘New Portsmouth Man’ likely more than 10,000 years old
Forest Society considering new kind of easement to protect historic remains
Concord, N.H., April 1, 2009—The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests acknowledged today that what appears to be the mummified remains of a prehistoric man dating back more than 10,000 years was discovered in a remote location on one of its more than 160 Forest Reservations.
If the age of the remains is confirmed, ‘New Portsmouth Man’ would be the oldest known prehistoric human remains ever found in the Americas. New Portsmouth Man, so-called, was named for an early 19th-century settlement near the area where he was discovered on land conserved by the Forest Society a number of years ago.
“It is our mission to conserve things in perpetuity,” said Jack Savage, vice president of communications for the Forest Society. “This guy is pretty darn perpetual.”
Like the well-known Tollund Man, an Iron Age relic who was found in a bog in Denmark, or the 5,300-year-old Otzi the Ice Man discovered in 1991 in the Alps, New Portsmouth Man is astoundingly well-preserved.
“Although a lot of the internal tissue is gone, his skin is intact—you can see the expression on his face,” said Savage. “Clearly, he was not having a good day.”
Workers at the site where New Portsmouth Man was found nicknamed him ‘Duncan,’ Savage said, because his body was found in a running position reminiscent of the Dunkin Donuts ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ logo.
“It would appear that he was attempting to outrun something, perhaps the glacier itself,” Savage said. “But he was not fleet of foot, especially along the steep terrain in that part of the state.”
While hundreds of “bog men” dating back a few thousand years have been found in Europe and elsewhere, well-preserved remains dating back to the Paleolithic period, or so-called Stone Age, are extraordinarily rare, though it is not uncommon to find nearly complete skeletons of large animals still preserved in the mud of ancient lakes.
In fact, so astounding is the find that some in the state are calling for New Portsmouth Man to become the “new Old Man of the Mountain” to replace as a tourist draw the world famous stone face of Franconia Notch that crumbled under its own weight in 2003.
“I don’t know about that,” Savage said. “What would we call him—the Really Old Man of the Mountain?”
Critics of the Forest Society’s reluctance to consider the tourism draw of New Portsmouth Man have suggested that the organization’s intent is to sell the remains on Ebay, where it could conceivably generate significant interest among collectors of such things.
“I don’t know where this rumor got started,” Savage said. “Let me be perfectly clear—we do not intend to sell New Portsmouth Man on Ebay. I don’t think Ebay would even let us do such a thing. We’d have to use Craigslist.”
To prevent misuse of the remains, the Forest Society is exploring the possibility of putting an easement on him. Like a conservation easement or a historic preservation easement, this ‘Duncan’ easement would outline for perpetuity the purposes for which New Portsmouth Man can be used—typically non-commercial.
“At least the easement will prohibit the subdivision of New Portsmouth Man’s various parts, lest any overzealous archeologists decide they want to carve him into pieces,” said Savage. “But it begs the question—would using Duncan as the new old man of the mountain constitute a commercial use? It’s a tricky legal issue.”
How He Was Found
When the Forest Society conserves a given piece of land, a thorough inventory is conducted, not only of the wood resource and environmental features but also of any apparent historical or cultural resources. Such cultural remnants are considered part of the story of the land, and unless there’s some danger to the public, those resources remain undisturbed.
Last year’s tornado uprooted some very large trees in a remote location near the boundary between Strafford and Carroll counties. The uprooting pulled away the top layer of soil, revealing an underground bog layer where New Portsmouth Man had been preserved for some 10,000 years. At that point in geologic history, the Laurentide ice sheet was receding, having extended as far south as what we know today as Long Island with ice as much as a mile thick.
“The experts tell us that in this case, New Portsmouth Man—Duncan—was first frozen by the glacier, then as the glacier receded, his body sank into a peat bog,” Savage said. “Some local hunters found him last fall and called us thinking that it was a modern body, a lost hiker or something.”
New Portsmouth Man’s diet has been studied by scientists as part of their examination of the remains. Among the contents of his digestive tract were seeds identified as a form of blackberry, and based on their position within his body, it can be determined how long before his death he ate them.
“From what I gather,” Savage said, “you can reconstruct the last 72 hours of his life by looking at his blackberries.”
For hear about New Portsmouth Man on New Hampshire Public Radio, click here: http://info.nhpr.org/node/24205
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (www.forestsociety.org) is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. In order to preserve the quality of life New Hampshire residents know today, the goal of the Forest Society, in partnership with other conservation organizations, private landowners, and government, is to conserve an additional one million acres of the state’s most significant natural lands for trails, parks, farms and forests by 2026.