Excavation turns up wealth of artifacts
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:33 PM
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
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
"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,"
"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.