Beginning on June 7, 2005, archaeologists from Eastern Washington University unearth Native American artifacts from People's Park in Spokane, and their discoveries reveal the site as the oldest continuously occupied human habitation in Washington. The alluvial delta where Latah Creek enters the Spokane River below Spokane Falls apparently served as a seasonal encampment as far back as 8,000 years ago. The evidence will provide important clues about the development of indigenous technology and trade throughout the region.
Digging into the Past
The archaeological site was uncovered in People’s Park during an excavation for a 96,000-gallon tank for the Spokane sewage treatment system. With $430,000 in funding from the Spokane City Council, scholars from Eastern Washington University spent five months recovering 60,000 artifacts. Representatives of the Spokane Tribe, which occupied the area when European explorers arrived in the early 1800s, oversaw the operation.
No human remains were discovered. The bones of hibernating animals such as marmots showed that the site was a seasonal encampment occupied during the summer (as such animals would be exceedingly difficult to find deep in their winter holes). A Cascade point spear tip from Oregon indicated that the Indians engaged in a trade network. Rocks identified as fishing weights showed that they had improved their fishing technology about 1,500 years B.C.E. by using nets.
The alluvial action of the rivers preserved the site. Normally floods would wash away a layer of soil, but at People’s Park, the streams deposited layers of sand during high water, which protected the artifacts from erosion.