A creek restoration project turned into a history lesson this summer for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
After an area in front of the tribal center in Blyn was prepared for stream work, Jamestown’s tribal preservation officer David Brownell noticed areas of black dirt and white shell fragments in the newly excavated area.
“These were clear indicators where tribal members used to dig cooking pits and eat shellfish,” he said.
Brownell submitted an excavation plan to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ regional archaeologist in early July before methodically sifting the dirt to find samples of shells, charred pieces of wood and fire-modified rocks.
Additional findings included fish vertebrae, deer or elk bone, seal bone, cherry pits and the head of an adze, a sharp woodworking tool.
The animal bones were intact because the calcium carbonate in shell acts as a preservative, Brownell said. Charcoal from the cooking pits will be sent out for radiocarbon dating. Brownell also is going to compare the rocks to samples from other village sites on Sequim Bay.
A lot of the shells being excavated are butter and horse clams, and Olympia oysters, he said, species that can’t be found in large numbers in the bay anymore.
“This kind of work can tell us how the environment has changed, based on the species we find in our excavating, and whether they are still in the area or not,” he said.
The tribe has lived on the shores of Sequim Bay for thousands of years and this particular area was used by one family for its annual reunion cookout, so the site has long been connected to the preparation and cooking of traditional foods, Brownell said.
He will analyze the artifacts to determine their ages so he can tell if they were used before or after tribal contact with European settlers, and to create a more detailed timeline about the use of the area.
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe employee Josh Carver, left, sifts through dirt looking for artifacts, while tribal preservation officer David Brownell scoops dirt from an archaeological pit near the shoreline on Sequim Bay. Photo: Tiffany Royal