Vanishing Elwha reservoirs reveal long-buried sites
In one of the most significant developments yet in the process of Elwha River Restoration, Washington, United States, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe recently gathered at their people’s sacred creation site for the first time in nearly a century.
“Our Ancestors didn’t write down our stories in books as we do today. We had witnessed the old ways as we had seen them from the etched rocks exposed at TsiWhitZen village site,” said Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Chairwoman Frances Charles. “Standing on our spiritual sacred site, the emotions of our Ancestors were so overwhelming we sang songs of joy to actually see this place and feel the power of our Ancestors. Our sacred site is not a myth as some had been led to believe.”
Sacred site covered by the waters
Generations of tribal members handed down descriptions of a distinctive place along the Elwha River where the Creator bathed the people and blessed them. For millennia a place of reverence and vision, the tribe’s creation site was covered by the waters of one of the two reservoirs created after construction of the dams in 1910 and 1927.
Removal of the two dams on the Elwha River began in September 2011; the Elwha Dam is completely gone and Glines Canyon Dam is expected to be fully removed by early summer 2013.
Creation site located in July
The creation site was located in early July by members of the Olympic National Park cultural resources staff who frequently monitor both of the former Elwha reservoirs for emerging cultural resources. Park staff immediately contacted tribal members who visited the site and confirmed its authenticity.
“The tribe has lived along the Elwha River since time immemorial and it is an honour to be part of the rediscovery of this sacred site,” said Olympic National Park Acting Superintendent Todd Suess. “As this project moves forward, we are gratified to see both their culture and the river’s ecosystem renewed.”
Eight thousand year old site also located
Elsewhere on the Elwha, another significant cultural site was recently found in an area formerly covered by a reservoir. Material from this site was collected for further study and the site was re-buried. Radiocarbon analysis indicates that the spot was used by people as far back as approximately 8,000 years ago, establishing it as one of the oldest known archaeological sites on the Olympic Peninsula.
“Finding these resources underscores the value of cultural resources, not only for their importance to the tribe’s culture, but also for the vast wealth of information they contain,” said Suess. “Because of the sensitivity of these sites, we will not be releasing more detailed location information.”
Source: National Park Service
- This series of webisodes, produced by Wings over Watersheds, chronicles the removal of the Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam – the largest dam removal project in United States history.
- Elwha River Restoration Facebook page