Entombed below a 10-acre concrete slab
November 21, 2004 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Tse-whit-zen. Excavation for the Hood Canal Bridge near Seattle has unearthed a huge prehistoric Indian village and alienated tribal spiritual leaders.
posted by xowie (18 comments total)
Wow... great post xowie. I wonder what will come of this. I guess Native Americans have given up so much in this country it would seem that the most sensitive and even sensible solution would be for the project to be cancelled and the land given back to the tribe so that they could retain the burial ground.
posted by yossarian1 at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2004

Very interesting indeed, it seems like they discovered some important area. In Rome, we have catacombs of the first christians and pagan romans and nobody would ever dare think about dismantling them, spiritually and archelogically significant as they are.

Indeed a new costruction work is going to dig a street literally under a particularly rich archelogical area (which is , basically, all of Rome) as nobody really know what treasures could be found ; given that it is safe to assume that there will be little to discover under a certain depth one should simply dig under it..and that's what is going to be done, apparently, in Rome.
posted by elpapacito at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2004

I'm amazed that they kept going... not only because of the cemetery (which is devastating in its own right), but there's a village, too!
The village site itself is being destroyed, day by day; already the remains of cooking areas, and the outlines of six plank houses used as permanent residences and ceremonial dance halls for the winter spirit dances, are lost to construction. Only a fraction of the project area is being sampled for artifacts by some 100 archaeologists and helpers swarming the site.
You'd think the largest archaeological find in the region would merit a little more study.
posted by strikhedonia at 10:11 AM on November 21, 2004

Anyone else notice the irony of the advertising on that page? Forgive the self-link, but I've posted a screen capture on my site with the ad for a moving service that appears above and next to the story about the need to move the remains of this ancient civilization.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:28 AM on November 21, 2004

"If it were a non-native cemetery this would not be happening, she said."

I think that pretty much sums it up.
posted by dobbs at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2004

"I know of no publicly funded project in the United States that has continued with this many graves," said David Rice, senior archeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District. "There is no end in sight, and we are approaching 1,000. Most sites I know of that found as many as 30 burials were stopped in their tracks.

"This is unprecedented in the United States."

Bones have been inadvertently hauled to the dump and left on construction spoil, split in half by excavators and crumbled as they were dragged across the bottoms of ditches with excavating equipment. Skulls have been shattered, and the remains of families that were buried together have been scattered....

[A tribe member] said she was forced, because of contractors in a hurry to sink a piling, to break apart the bodies of a couple, buried with their legs linked, their arms around each other, and faces turned to one another.

"It was very hard, something I will have to live with the rest of my life. You are literally staring into your ancestors' eyes, into their souls. Sometimes you have to break a bone to get it out, and it's this rush of sadness, I just have to turn off my emotions."

Wow. When even the Army Corps of Engineers can see that construction should have been stopped several hundred graves ago, TIME TO FUCKING STOP.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:09 AM on November 21, 2004

Wow, that is just awful. As someone who used to work in Cultural Resource Management for many years, I just have one question - How was this missed during surveying and testing?

I hope the contractor is getting in trouble for this one, talk about dropping the ball...
posted by gemmy at 11:09 AM on November 21, 2004

this is indeed a travesty. i feel for the first-nation people that have to watch their ancestors ripped from the ground, while the keys to long forgotten knowledge are unceremoniously crushed beneath heavy equipment. i used to think of the pacific northwest as a very compassionate area of the country. very forward (ie, liberal) thinking...i think maybe i was wrong. i can't believe that anything like this would be allowed to happen anywhere in this country of ours. we are probably handling the exhuming of iranian mass-graves with more tact than this. this truly sucks.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 11:12 AM on November 21, 2004

uhh...did i say iranian mass graves? sorry...meant iraqi.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 12:01 PM on November 21, 2004

The article doesn't say why the state is in such a hurry to finish, is it just for financial reasons? It seems ridiculously shortsighted if that's true.
posted by cali at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2004

Where are the pious anti p0rn brigades ? Don't they hate the desacration of the deads ?

Ohhhh wait those are indians...nevermind, these deads are not like other deads
posted by elpapacito at 12:45 PM on November 21, 2004

"You look at the scale of the site and you say, 'How in the world was this missed?' " said Doug MacDonald, secretary of the state Department of Transportation


Excellent post, xowie.
posted by codeofconduct at 12:48 PM on November 21, 2004

This saddens me. Being from the Seattle area, one of the things I (hopefully still) believe and tell people about the pacific northwest is that it values it's Native American heritage roots. It's reflected in the names, art and culture of the region. This isn't the Seattle I know.

As the article refers to, though, this is an attempt to improve traffic in an area that has gone from ok to close to rock-bottom-worst in terms of delays and congestion. Not that that excuses digging up graves fer chrissakes.
posted by wolftrouble at 2:55 PM on November 21, 2004

But the tribe is insisting the state keep exploring for remains the tribe does not want entombed below a 10-acre concrete slab. Such a barrier would condemn the spirits of the dead buried below to be forever separated from their loved ones, said Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Being part Indian myself, I think I can, without being accused of racism, say 'Oh c'mon. "Loved ones"? You didn't even know these long-dead "remains" were there until they dug the frigging road. And how can you tell they're YOUR tribespeople anyway? They're wearing engraved steel dogtags, are they?'

Superstitious bullshit is superstitious bullshit, whether the corpses are alleged to be Roman, Nez Perce or Taiwanese. I say they set up a little exhibit with a plaque that outlines what these excavations have already discovered, noting that there are probably more dead bones under the roadway, and let it go at that. And in the future I think a time-and- money limit should be put on these fortuitous digs: if some group of any kind wants to hold up a big public project to sort through a hole of bones, let them do so at their own expense.

It's bullshit like this that makes me want to be cremated and the ashes and bone fragments thrown into the nearest body of water, with the aid of a flush toilet if that's more convenient. And if whatever solids are left wind up being included in a bag of sludge fertilizer that's even better -- then nobody can say I was always good for nothing.
posted by davy at 8:30 PM on November 21, 2004

"If it were a non-native cemetery this would not be happening, she said."

Nope. Sorry. In my state they do it over the dry bones of African slaves and Scotch-Irish land-grabbers too.

The planet is literally littered with the bones of one ethnic group or another, none of which is any more "sacred" than the rest. I say forget the dead and learn compassion for the living.
posted by davy at 8:49 PM on November 21, 2004

"But the tribe doesn't want to lay people below concrete. That's a new card: They do not want to separate the community."

Seperate the community?? I'd say living/dead is a pretty significant seperation, and they sure as hell aren't changing that one.

"Tribal members for the first time are seeing physical evidence of the lives of the people who lived on the site, from whom they are directly descended."

This, to me, is the real tragedy. How many artifacts from 1700 years ago are there left? And how many from this particular tribe? These are things we cannot bring back. I'd be a lot more concerned about losing evidence of my cultural heritage, which would tell me a lot about the lives of my ancestors, than I would be about losing some bones, which would tell me almost nothing.

Clothing, burned in piles on the ground, is sent across, too, for the use of the dead, including adult clothing for children, who will grow into it as their life goes on in the spirit world

1700 years and they still aren't adults? The spirit world must move pretty slow...
posted by nTeleKy at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2004

the site is thought to have been occupied until 1915, so it's not necessarily some nameless proto-ancestor.

To echo sentiments stated earlier, i find it hard to believe this wasn't found with pre-construction sampling, which i thought was a requirement of NAGPRA; and when ACE thinks it's a bad idea, it's probably a bad idea, as they haven't shown the greatest regard themselves when it comes to Native American remains.
posted by auslander at 1:36 PM on November 22, 2004

the site is thought to have been occupied until 1915, so it's not necessarily some nameless proto-ancestor.

If so that only makes it sillier, given that I said 'Oh c'mon. "Loved ones"? You didn't even know these long-dead "remains" were there until they dug the frigging road.' To lose track after only 70 years -- not 700 -- and THEN get all religious about it? OY.
posted by davy at 4:38 PM on November 22, 2004

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