Archaeologists to tell of Tse-whit-zen findings

A free presentation will be in the second-floor conference room at The Landing mall in Port Angeles.

PORT ANGELES — Archaeologists studying Tse-whit-zen found evidence of a rich and diverse environment in which people used some 150 species of animals, some of which now are likely rare, said one member of a team of archaeologists who will present their findings at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The free presentation will be in the second-floor conference room at The Landing mall, 115 E. Railroad Ave.

Virginia Butler of Portland State University also said the team discovered evidence of a tsunami some 1,250 years ago — about 766 A.D. — at the ancient village on the Port Angeles waterfront.

Tse-whit-zen, a Klallam village dating back some 2,700 years, was discovered in 2003 at a Marine Drive site earmarked for a state graving yard connected with work planned on the Hood Canal Bridge. After artifacts and human remains were discovered, construction was halted and many artifacts were stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Some of the more than 100,000 artifacts have since been returned to the Lower Elwha Klallam, who display them at the Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E. First St.

“We are a group of archaeologists and are familiar with what played out there, the challenges the tribe and community faced,” Butler said.

“We understood that the materials were curated at the Burke Museum and weren’t being studied. The team put together a proposal to National Science Foundation” because of the significance of the site, the largest pre-European contact village excavated in Washington state.

The specialty of the team of archaeologists is animal remains and how they relate to human beings.

Studying animal bones and teeth “would shed light on the history of the people at that place,” Butler said.

In their grant application, the archaeologists also said they would be able to track how animals, and people in turn, were affected by the great earthquakes that have occurred in the region, as well as by different kinds of climate change in the past 2,500 years and local environmental change.

“Different processes might have played out, and animals provide a window into that history,” Butler said.

In 2012, the National Science Foundation awarded the archaeologists a $350,000 grant — and later added more funds, Butler said.

“It’s taken more money to accomplish all that we set out to do,” Butler said. “We have put our eyes on over half a million separate things.”

Eventually a report will be written. In the meantime, the team of five archaeologists will present their findings in Port Angeles.

Presentations are:

• “Herring Hold Up the World” — Butler.

• “A Murre in Every Pot” — Kris Bovy, University of Rhode Island.

• “It’s Nice to Have Something to Eat that Doesn’t Run Away (Very Fast)” — Sarah Campbell, Western Washington University.

• “Good to the Last Crumb”— Mike Etnier, Western Washington University.

• “Great Earthquakes at Tse-whit-zen: Evidence from the Past, Implications for the Present” — Sarah Sterling, Portland State University.

“One of the things that is so amazing to me is how many different kinds of animals people had relationships with,” Butler said. “There were over a 150 different species of animals that people relied upon.

“I would bet that some of those species are now rare.”

The team found evidence of an ancient tsunami in a layer of sediment, Butler said.

“We don’t have evidence of the most recent great quake” from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault that stretches from Vancouver Island to Northern California. That quake occurred some 300 years ago, geologists say.

“But we do have evidence that people were living there then,” Butler said.

The presentation is a collaboration among Portland State University, Western Washington University, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Coastal Watershed Institute.


Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at

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