Monday, November 16, 2009

Digging for answers at Mount Rainier

The News Tribune this weekend reports on some remarkable archeological discoveries at Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Parks.

A dig near Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park has revealed evidence that humans used the area 9,600 years ago. At Mount Rainier National Park, a site on the northern slope of the mountain has produced artifacts dating back 7,600 years.
This is significant because until recently--as recently as when I was working at Mount Rainier as a seasonal ranger in the mid 1990s--the "official" understanding was that the native people seldom ventured onto the "Mountain that was God." How naive we were!

Archeologist Greg Burtchard started testing this hypothesis more than a decade ago now, applying actual science to our previously untested assumptions. He promptly found evidence of regular human presence all over the park, and the date of our oldest artifacts has steadily retreated farther and farther into the past as we've dug deeper into the layers of volcanic ash that blanket the mountain.

The work is highly specialized, but it has been assisted by volunteers now and then, most notably student archeologists from Pacific Lutheran University. Through their efforts, our understanding of the long, rich and complex human relationship with Mount Rainier is coming into sharper focus.

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