June 25, 2009

What happens when a new archaeological site is found?

Every so often, an unsuspecting developer breaks ground on a new building project and stumbles upon artifacts or remains that connect us to people of the past. It happened in Port Angeles in 2003 when the state Department of Transportation uncovered Tse-whit-zen, a 2,700-year-old ancient village of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. And it happened again in 2007, when a developer in Snohomish County unearthed thousands of spear points, stone knives, scrapers, and other artifacts that date to the Olcott period (4,500 – 9,000 years ago).

Unlike the 2003 discovery of Tse-whit-zen (after which the Burke Museum was designated as the safest place to temporarily hold the collection in trust), the Burke Museum has no actual involvement with the new Snohomish County site. Much of the site is still yet to be excavated, and of what has been collected, the museum has not been called upon to help care for the artifacts. However, the archaeologists on our staff have been called upon by the local media to help provide some context for understanding the Olcott period and the potential significance of this discovery.

This week, the Everett Herald and KING 5 News reported on the site and looked to the Burke’s team of archaeology experts to help with the reports. Stephanie Jolivette, who handles archaeology-related outreach at the museum, stepped up and shared what she knows about the Olcott period. Read the newspaper article here or watch the news report here.

The collective knowledge of our curators, collections managers, and researchers is really quite amazing. As a public institution, the Burke is a useful resource for anyone in Washington State looking for answers to questions involving the state’s natural and cultural heritage. Next time a new archaeological site is unexpectedly discovered, I’m sure the Burke’s archaeology division will be getting a phone call to help figure out what’s what.

Photo: An array of points from the Olcott period housed in the Burke Museum collection.