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Know the West

Graves halt a highway project

  A recent decision in Washington state protects the largest prehistoric village ever discovered in the state, but puts a $284 million highway construction project on hold.

To repair the 40-year-old Hood Canal Bridge, which connects the cities of the northern Olympic Peninsula with the Seattle area, the Washington State Department of Transportation needed to build floating concrete pontoons. For a construction site, it chose an abandoned lumber mill in the sheltered harbor of Port Angeles.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe knew that there had once been a tribal village on the harbor, but preliminary excavations at the abandoned mill failed to find any evidence of the prehistoric site. Within a few weeks, though, construction work uncovered a 1,700-year-old village containing eight longhouses and over 5,000 artifacts, and a cemetery with 264 intact human skeletons. "Day by day, the evidence of the village (was) being destroyed," says tribal chairwoman Frances Charles.

On Dec. 21, the state, under pressure from the tribe, halted construction at the mill site. Completion of the bridge project has been delayed indefinitely while the state looks for another location.