By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Twelve people from the Clallam County Sheriff's Office, the state Department of Archaeology and the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe sifted dirt through wooden-framed strainers, inspecting all of the material for bone fragments.
There were to return today.
A skull section had been recovered Aug. 23 by contractor Jim Bishop, who was putting in a septic system.
He found the bone fragments, which are thought to be at least 200 years old, while replacing the dirt after installing the septic tanks, said property owner Dave Salmon.
Since the excavation started, the team has uncovered part of a skull, some long bones and bone fragments, and a pelvis, although not enough to reassemble a full skeleton, according to state Physical Anthropologist Guy Tasa, who was supervising the process.
The pelvis was a key find, as it will allow researchers to determine the gender and age of the skeleton, according to tribal representative Gideon Cauffman, who was on the dig.
Tasa said there was no way to tell whether there were any other remains in the area but expected that some would be found during construction in the neighborhood, which is in progress.
The bones will be taken to the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation in Olympia for analysis before their return to the tribe for reburial, Tasa said.
Tasa said he has a thorough knowledge of anatomy and is able to immediately spot the origin of a bone fragment when it is pulled out of the ground.
The bones could be reburied near the discovery site or in the tribe's cemetery, Cauffman said.
“We want to rebury them in the same geographic location where they were discovered.”
Salmon, 74, a retired Sequim firefighter, said that although he had owned the 75-foot-by-200-foot parcel since he was 15, this was the first time he had put a permanent home on the land, which abuts Discovery Bay.
“The three agencies have moved this along very rapidly,” Salmon said.
“I can't thank them enough.”
Salmon said he was inconvenienced but would not hesitate to call the authorities if he found any more remains.
“We have some missing people around here, and it's important to give closure if they are identified.”
Sheriff's Detective Tom Reyes said a quick response is necessary to encourage others to report bone fragments when they are discovered.
“We want to get out quickly so we can allow them to move on with projects,” Reyes said.
“If there was a long delay, we might not see as much reporting. So it's important to get the team out as soon as possible.”
Weather doesn't get in the way, as “archaeologists are always working in the rain,” Tasa said.
Tasa said the project was small enough to be handled by a local team.
If it were larger, the landowner would be required to hire an excavation team to recover all the bones, though those costs are reimbursed by the state.
Reyes said the recovered remains immediately were classified as “non-forensic,” with no connection to a recent crime.
He encouraged anyone who finds a bone fragment to report it immediately to local police.
“If anyone finds anything, it's important they call us right away so we can get a team out to process it properly,” he said.
Cauffman, who has worked on several digs, said they were exciting at first, but this one “is just another day at work,” even though it is an important task.
“We want to recover the bones and rebury them in order to keep our ancestors close to where they came from,” he said.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.