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Human remains discovered at Point No Point
POINT NO POINT — Human remains were discovered at Point No Point County Park while a contractor was getting a parking lot resurfacing project under way May 5.
Anthropologist Dr. Guy Tasa of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation determined that the remains were archeological, not forensic, Rebecca Pirtle of the County Commissioners office reported.
A complete bone and five fragments were uncovered while landscaping was being removed from the adjacent cottage that the county leases out as a residence. The cottage dates to the late 1800s and was built by John S. Maggs, the first lighthouse keeper at Point No Point.
The remains were found by construction crews doing clearing with a backhoe. The remains were found under a juniper bush. “They were taking out the bush and it was just underneath … in the roots," said Ric Catron, Kitsap County Parks project coordinator. All work ceased, Pirtle reported.
An archeologist for the contractor, RV Associates, assessed the remains and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and Kitsap County Coroner’s Office were dispatched to the park to assess whether the bones were animal or human.
After it was determined the remains were more than likely human and appeared to be quite old, Coroner Greg Sandstrom contacted Dr. Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, and electronically sent her photos of the remains. Taylor confirmed the bones were human and notified Tasa, as is required.
Because the remains are old and not the result of any recent criminal activity, the Kitsap County coroner and sheriff are no longer leading an investigation, Pirtle reported.
Tasa met at the site the morning of May 6 with parks staff and representatives from the S’Klallam Tribe and Department of Ecology, which provided a grant to Kitsap County Public Works for the stormwater improvements taking place in the parking lot. With the determination that the remains are non-forensic, the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation takes over jurisdiction and will conduct laboratory testing to ascertain whether the remains are Native American or non-Native.
Tasa said he expects test results will be available early next week. Findings will then be reported to affected Tribes or other involved groups for the preservation, excavation and disposition of the remains.
Representatives of the United States and the S’Klallam, Skokomish and Chimakum nations met here and signed the Treaty of Point No Point on Jan. 26, 1855, making the region available for non-Native settlement. Suquamish signed the Treaty of Point Elliott at Mukilteo.
Dennis Lewarch, historic preservation officer for the Suquamish Tribe, said elders from the Tribes will get together “and determine what is best for the ancestor.”
Point No Point was known by the region’s First Peoples as hahdskus.
Lewarch said hahdskus was historically the site of a village led by a Suquamish leader, Tslakum — that’s how his name was spelled in documents of the time by the missionary priest Francois Blanchet. Lewarch said Tslakum’s name appears in Hudson Bay Co. documents from 1833 through the 1840s.
“He was an important regional leader,” Lewarch said. “In 1841, his village was mapped and described by the naval exploring expedition in 1841. He had a summer village as well at Whidbey Island where Ebey’s Prairie is.”
Lewarch said Tslakum transported Catholic priests to Whidbey Island in 1840, and carried Hudson Bay Co. ledgers between Fort Langley in British Columbia and Fort Nisqually. “Hudson Bay traders used him as an emissary to invite the S’Klallam people to trade at Fort Nisqually,” he said.
The site is important to the S'Klallam people as well. Josh Wisniewski, anthropologist/archeologist for the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, said hahdskus was an “active fish camp” for the S’Klallam people — chinook in the spring, coho in the summer. Lewarch agrees that the S’Klallam people camped and fished there.
The parking lot at Point No Point was already closed to the public for the resurfacing project, though the park remains open. A small portion near the entrance of the lot is cordoned off while the investigation continues there. Work on the rest of the parking lot will continue.
“You can never go into a project expecting to have a discovery of this nature,” Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said in a press release. “Parks staff and the Coroner’s Office responded to the site and secured it immediately, calling in the appropriate authorities. We are respectful of the remains and any archeological significance they contain, and will work with the state to ensure they are handled accordingly.”
In 2007, the Kitsap County Parks Department had an archaeological and ethnographic assessment completed on Point No Point County Park, which includes the Point No Point Light Station, owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and leased to the county. The assessment included extensive subsurface testing. Though no significant archaeological sites were identified, the potential for cultural and archaeological deposits exists, Pirtle reported.