McGOWAN - Work at the U.S. Highway 101 re-alignment project at the Station Camp site came to an abrupt halt early Tuesday morning after Pacific County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to a call from workers that, during excavation work at the site, they had exposed "very old remains," according to PCSO Chief Criminal Deputy Ron Clark.
According to Jilayne Jordan of Washington Department of Transportation, work has ceased at Station Camp until federal archaeologists can examine the skeletal remains.
According to Sylvia Ross of WSDOT, when the National Park Service conducted a cultural resources survey there was a monitoring plan and an inadvertent discovery plan. The inadvertent discovery plan went into effect Tuesday. "Right now, WSDOT is assessing its part of the project," Ross said.
Chinook tribal officials were among those examining the site Tuesday afternoon as the Observer went to press. Earlier archaeological work uncovered traces of what may have been a Chinook cedar plank structure in the general vicinity of where the apparently human bones have now been found.
A Chinook village occupied the area of the new Lewis and Clark National Park Station Camp site for centuries prior to white settlement. But the area also was the location of a salmon cannery for several decades, meaning the remains might be those of cannery workers or drowned fishermen. Early Chinook remains might be distinguishable by skull deformations that were viewed as a mandatory badge of tribal membership, the shape being achieved by binding babies' skulls when they were still soft. There was no information Tuesday afternoon about whether such clues have been found.
Northwest Indians strongly believe that the remains of their ancestors should be left undisturbed where they were originally placed. Work on the new Hood Canal Bridge near Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula was stopped after construction disturbed more than 300 skeletons associated with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The Washington State Department of Transportation abandoned $58 million in work there.
Traditional Chinook funeral customs, at least the elaborate practices used for high-ranking tribal members, faded in the 19th century as the tribe was driven to the brink of extinction by imported diseases to which they lacked natural resistance.
In his recent book "When the River Ran Wild," Eastern Chinookan George Aguilar Sr. said "the Chinookan people who passed from this life were placed in burial vaults facing the sea. They were placed in their canoes, with the prow facing west, every paddle in position as they awaited new life to spend eternity." After bodies were reduced to only bones, "old dead-raisers or bone-cleaners" performed additional ceremonies, before the remains were conveyed to their final resting place, sacred ground that was often an island.