When I was a kid, my first introduction to archaeology was with Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was fascinated by the action, the mystery and the artifacts Dr. Jones would find on his adventures around the world. The one idea that stuck with me from the movie series is that historical artifacts belong in a museum!
After I joined WSDOT, I was intrigued by the work our cultural resources department does to uncover archaeological artifacts and preserve them for future generations. While we’re not traveling to exotic locations to look for the Ark of the Covenant, we do undertake an environmental review in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act to address how our construction projects may affect historical properties. The goal is to maintain these historical properties and protect the cultural artifacts we find during the process.
Check out some of the artifacts we found on our projects and the stories they tell!
Finding a waterfront community on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program
As part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, our archaeologists uncovered the remnants of a small waterfront neighborhood just west of Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The neighborhood was abandoned around 1905 and likely occupied by Seattle’s early waterfront labor force, which included longshoreman, saloon-keepers, transient workers and entrepreneurs. While the men and women who lived in the neighborhood are now silent, the jumble of pier foundations and household materials found at the site tell their story.
|Archaeologists uncover the foundations of a neighborhood that stood along Seattle’s waterfront|
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We examined the layers of soil and collected the materials people used, including tableware, glass fragments and pharmaceutical bottles. We also found animal bones, which were used to determine what the small waterfront community ate on a daily basis. Although we weren’t able to solve all the mysteries of this community, we did gain some insights into Seattle’s working class through the artifacts we recovered.
|Old pharmaceutical bottles and glassware found during a May 2010 excavation.|
Remnants of an old mining railroad discovered through a fish passage project
The historic remains of an abandoned railroad trestle, found on the SR 92 Little Pilchuck Creek Fish Passage Project, played a role in Washington’s past mining industry. In 1892, the Everett and Monte Cristo Railway Company began building a railroad to access the mines near Monte Cristo. The company built a 147-foot-long bridge on top of piles crossing Little Pilchuck Creek. We discovered a few of the old piles from this railroad during the construction of our fish passage project.
|The bottom of one of the piles used to support the railroad trestle crossing Little Pilchuck Creek.|
Fossilized creepy crawlers reveal Washington’s geological history
Not all of the stuff we find in the ground is cultural. During the construction of the SR 9 Gribble Creek Fish Passage Project in Skagit County, we found a natural deposit of saltwater clam shells and fossilized tubeworms.
|A close-up look at one of the fossilized tubeworms recovered at Gribble Creek.|
The geological history of the area indicated the shell materials were likely deposited from glacial seawater inundating the Skagit River watershed. With the retreat of the glaciers, the marine invertebrates were left in the fine grain silts, sands and clay material for our archaeologists to find thousands of years later.
|Mixed in the sand and clay soils are shell material deposited by the retreating glaciers.|
These artifacts are only small pieces of history we’ve uncovered through our construction projects. By recording and preserving some of these artifacts, we’re fulfilling our commitment to maintain and protect the cultural resources found in our region. You may not find all of these artifacts and materials in a museum, but they lend an important voice to telling the stories of past eras in Washington state history.
If you’re interested in learning more about our cultural resources program, check out our history page to find videos, project webpages and other publicly available resources describing the history of Washington’s transportation system.