Excavation turns up wealth of artifacts

FALL CITY _ When work crews began constructing a soccer field

near State Route 203 and Neal Road earlier this summer, they

inadvertently uncovered evidence of Native American cultures stretching back

1,000 years _ maybe more _ in time.

There, underneath the topsoil, was an archeological snapshot of

Indian habitation along the Snoqualmie River. A four-and-a-half-week dig

netted animal bones, spear points, numerous fire hearths, bits of obsidian

and indications of fallen structures at the site. And because of the nature of

the soil, archeologists could visibly discern how native populations living

in the area changed over time.

Of the approximately 1 3/4 acres that are fenced in at the site, only

a small portion of the ground was actually excavated. Andy de los

Angeles, an ethnoarcheologist with the Snoqualmie Tribe and its former

chairman, said many more artifacts likely lie under the soil, waiting to be


"This site is pretty large, and I think we're only getting a small

fraction of it," he said.

"Nobody has ever done an excavation quite this large on

the Snoqualmie River."

The excavation wasn't supposed to happen. The site, located in the

King County-owned Fall City Community Park, was to be developed as a

soccer field for the Snoqualmie Valley Youth Soccer Association, which needs

more playing fields to meet the demand of a growing number of teams.

The area was registered as a state archeological site in the 1980s. In

July, de los Angeles said that when the county contracted out the work

to build the soccer field, it failed to follow the Tribe's recommendation

that in lieu of digging, topsoil should be brought in to level the site.

Instead, a "sod stripper" was used to level the field. As work

continued, an archeologist at the site found Native American artifacts in the

churned-up dirt. Construction was halted, and county officials, the Tribe and the

soccer association met to determine what to do next.

What followed was a county-funded plan to excavate the site.

Archeologists dug holes in several different areas and collected

evidence that will be analyzed later. The mounds of dirt created by the sod

stripper were leveled, and last week, the excavation holes were covered

with black "geotech" cloth, which was

then topped by 10 dump-truck loads of dirt and seeded with grass.

Al Dams, spokesman for the King County Park System, said

$105,000 has been spent on the project. He added that county officials haven't

determined whether to keep the soccer field at the site or find another

location. The soccer association had hoped to start using the new field next year.

"It definitely pushed the field project back," he said of the

excavation work.

Meg Nelson, an archeologist with Northwest Archeological

Associates in Seattle, which oversaw the excavation, said archeologists encountered

a wide array of artifacts when they started looking.

"We found different kinds of features: hearths and fire pits, remains

of structures, lots of different kinds of lithic materials, obsidian, chirt and

a variety of different kinds of tools, indicating different activities," she said.

De los Angeles said the site differs from a similar excavation

along the Tolt River which, he said, is a much older site, dating back 8,000 years.

"In comparison to the Tolt River project, most of the collection (at

Tolt River) was flakes. Here we had the range of finding an arrow

sharpener to bird points for ducks and geese. In the fire hearths, you had a lot of

muscle shells and fish bones, and deer and elk."

He said the artifacts found in Fall City range in age from a few

centuries old to 1,000 years old, and possibly older.

"In one set of fire hearths, you could have artifacts that were

very young in age; in other sets of fire hearths, you could have artifacts

that were much older," he said.

Holes excavated at the site also produced evidence of cultural

changes along the river, which provided access to trade. The bits of obsidian

found were likely brought in from other areas.

"You could see the layers of fire and ash … which to a lot of

people was very exciting," de los Angeles said.

Evidence collected from the holes also suggests that even as

Native American tribes moved about the Valley, they often came back to the site.

"After contact with the settlers, they (Native Americans) would

settle back into the places where they were comfortable," he said.

Nelson said there are plans to carbon date some of the material that

was collected.

"We've taken a lot of charcoal samples from the different

cultural layers. We'll submit those samples to radiocarbon dating," she said.

"We should be able to get a very good dating of the site."

The size of the site does pose a challenge, she added.

"It's a big project. We have a lot of material to process and analyze,

but I think we'll get some very good information from the site."

Nelson said Northwest Archeological Associates has

received $10,000 from the county to carry out its analysis. De los Angeles, who

was hired by the firm to help with the excavation, said it's doubtful that

money would completely fund an analysis of the evidence.

"This company (Northwest Archeological Associates) has a lot

of data, for which there are no funds," he said. However, Dams said

the amount was what the firm requested.

The Snoqualmie Tribe is in favor of further excavation at the site,

which de los Angeles said, could help fill in much of the Tribe's history that

was lost after Native Americans died of diseases they contracted from

settlers in the region.

"Contact with settlers brought disease, which took one-half to

one-third of the Native American population. At each wave the population would

thin out and thin out, until it got to the point where villages were wiped out,"

he said.

"That's why even this place here becomes more important to the

survivors of the Snoqualmie Tribe."

But he acknowledged receiving funding would be difficult.

"Projects such as this are hard to secure money for," he said. "It's

easier to get money for a collection, as opposed to digging.

Dams said the county would look at funding further work at the site,

but the final decision would boil down to the project's merit and where

the money would come from.

"That's going to be the big issue," he said of funding.

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