Archaeologists unearth artifacts beginning on June 7, 2005, which indicate that Spokane is the oldest continually occupied human habitation in Washington.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/29/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8043
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.


Sources: Christopher Rodkey, “Dig May Remake Spokane History,” The Spokesman-Review (Spokane), September 20, 2005, p. A-1; Mike Prager, “Spokane Archaeology Dig To Get Funding Boost,” Ibid., September 28, 2005, p. B-6; Mike Prager, “Dig Uncovers City’s Antiquity,” Ibid., December 14, 2006, p. B-3.

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