Glacial Origins of Cape Cod Presentation Recap

The Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) hosted the second event in our Third Tuesday Winter Lecture Series on Tuesday, February 300x25019th, 2013 at 6:30pm at the Orleans Yacht Club. Todd Kelley, a 12th generation Cape Codder, gave his presentation entitled “The Glacial Origins of Cape Cod and the Arrival of the First People” to a crowd of 80 avid listeners. Todd is the Park Interpreter at Nickerson State Park through the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation and also offers customized day hikes through his website,

 Todd did a wonderful job explaining the glacial processes that led to the formation of Cape Cod. Approximately 14,000 years ago, the Laurentide Ice Sheet covered hundreds of thousands of square miles, including present day Cape Cod. The glacier covering Cape Cod deposited sediment as it melted, forming the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket moraines approximately 21,000 years ago and subsequently the Falmouth and Sandwich moraines 15,000 to 18,000 years ago. Moraines are glacially-formed accumulations of glacial debris, soil and rock, which Todd explained with the imagery of a conveyor belt: as the glacier melted, it collapsed, dropping debris that it had been carrying from northern altitudes. Six thousand years ago glacial deposits and outwash formed Cape Cod; however, it would not have been recognizable with its unique shape and composition until 3,000 years ago when the land started to be shaped by the rising sea level and erosion due to long-shore currents.

Todd further explained that humans existed in this area to witness these natural processes – which is hard for us to imagine. He noted that man first arrived on Cape Cod around 9,000 or 10,000 years ago and most likely settled where the freshwater existed at the time, most notably near the Bass River in Dennis and Herring River in Harwich. Based on historical evidence, these people were hunter-gatherers who travelled on foot and by canoe. At the time when the Europeans were first exploring this area in the 16th century, the native people of Cape Cod were at the height of their culture. Todd described them as the epitome of balanced spatial ecology: the natives were comfortable in their surroundings and lived in harmony with the natural world.

When leaving, attendees commented that the talk was very informative and interesting. The lecture series will continue to take place on the third Tuesday of each month at the Orleans Yacht Club. Join the OCT in March for the next talk entitled, “Seals: Making a Comeback,” given by Jesse Mechling, the Marine Education Director at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.