In October 2014, the digging of a waterline ditch at Point Julia uncovered a bit of Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe history.
What the Tribal members working on that trench found was a dense layer of midden, which is a large human-created debris pile that often accumulated over several generations.
Midden is basically the waste of day-to-day life and can include items such as shells, cracked rock, and faunal remains such as fish and animal bones.
Our Tribe has lived on the shores around Port Gamble Bay for millennia. Oral and written histories tell us that the S’Klallams had an ancestral village at what became the town of Port Gamble and, in 1853, were relocated across the Bay to Point Julia. What makes the presence of the midden truly exciting is it can provide a snapshot of Tribal life at Point Julia.
While the presence of the midden was known, its exposure during the digging of the trench sped up plans to perform a thorough excavation, going down into the stratum — the layers of rock in the ground — to see if any other artifacts could be unearthed.
Initial recovery efforts last year produced exciting results, uncovering a partial adze blade (an adze is a tool used for carving, shaping, or cutting wood), a partial bone harpoon, and a partially intact fish club. In addition, what appeared to be a house floor platform was also unearthed.
Early this fall, over the course of three very windy and rainy days days, a team of volunteers, led by our Tribe’s anthropologist, went back to perform deeper excavation on the site.
Working in three separate areas along the original ditch, one-meter by one-meter holes — known as “units” — were dug, with dirt and debris carefully extracted. This material was then placed on a screen where it was washed and what was left was meticulously searched through for artifacts to be set aside for future analysis.
Findings included herring vertebrae; salmon, halibut, and rock fish bone; seal, porpoise, deer, and a variety of different bird bones; and at least one bear tooth. While these items might seem somewhat mundane, our anthropologist says analysis of these materials can help to reconstruct ancestral diets and resource availability, including seasonality.
At least one useable charcoal sample that can be used for dating was also collected. This is exciting as it can indicate when humans lived at the site. For example, there were two charcoal samples recovered during the work in 2014. One was found at 60 centimeters below the surface (CMBS) and was dated at 527 years before present. The other was at 80CMBS and dated to 816 years before present. According to our Tribe’s anthropologist, this information clearly suggests the presence of S’Klallam ancestors living on Point Julia long before Treaty times.
Before the collected materials can be analyzed further, it has to be dried, which can take several months. After that the material can be cataloged, processed, and properly inspected. This is slow, tedious work, but essential to better understand the deep connection my Tribe has to this area we know as home.