Origin of skull not yet known

SEQUIM — A desecrated human skull found by a beach walker on Labor Day will be examined by the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to determine if it is of Native American origin, local and state officials said last week.

Sequim resident Tim Finch found the skull attached to a stake and bobbing at the tide line about a quarter mile from the Port Williams boat launch, he told Peninsula Daily News on Wednesday.

“From a distance, it looked like a skull on a stick, and that’s indeed what it was,” said Finch, 66, who regularly walks the beach.

The underside of the cranium was attached to a post-like, 8-inch wooden stake by what appeared to be blue, hardening foam, Finch said.

It was missing a jawbone and had one clearly visible tooth.

Finch reported the find to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, which first listed it as a “death investigation” and issued a press release Friday saying deputies were actively investigating “the desecration of the remains.”

A King County Medical Examiner’s Office investigation had determined the skull was at least 100 years old, Undersheriff Ron Cameron said Friday.

“There’s no way to conclude if there is anything criminally involved in it,” Cameron said.

“The case is still open, following up on anything we can develop.

“It will be a needle in a haystack at best.

“Perhaps it will be [news] coverage that will spark someone to come forward, and we may get a lead out of it.”

Under state law, anyone who mutilates human remains from a place of interment is guilty of a Class C felony.

Cameron said the skull will be mailed to the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for further examination.

Agency Director Allyson Brooks said Friday that state Physical Anthropologist Guy Tasa should be able to determine this week if the remains are Native American.

Tasa might not be able to determine the age or gender of the person.

If Tasa determines the remains are Native American, area tribes will be notified.

The skull was found a mile north of the site of the former Klallam village of Sh-tch-kwung (pronounced shtuhkwung), Dave Brownell, Jamestown S’Klallam tribal historic preservation officer, said Friday.

He said if the remains are determined to be Native American, representatives of the Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes will determine which tribe will receive them.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe probably would bury them at the tribal cemetery.

Native American communities were commonly located along the shorelines of Washington state.

“The entire shoreline of Washington state is an archaeologically rich area,” Brooks said.

Although Clallam County’s shoreline, particularly in Sequim, has seen its share of archaeological finds, no one area has more remains than another, she said.

“What it really comes down to is the state of preservation and the amount of disturbance,” she said.

Brooks said it’s not unusual for the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to receive skulls or human remains that are repatriated to the state’s Native American tribes, which total 29.

But obtaining a skull like the one found at Port Williams is “a little unusual,” she said.

“I don’t know what that person was doing,” she said of whomever affixed the skull on the stake.

The Jamestown S’Klallam tribe “is deeply disappointed with this grievous act,” Brownell said in a prepared statement.

“The remains of our ancestors are sacred, and as such they are to be treated with the greatest measure of respect and our appropriate cultural reburial actions.

“It is our expectation, if the determination is made that the remains are Native, that we may soon rebury this ancestor with the respect and reverence that are part of our cultural tradition and practices.”

Regardless of the origin of the skull, what was done ”is definitely not a very nice thing to do with the remains of a human being,” Brownell said Friday.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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