PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University archaeologists’ mid-1960s race to rescue the remains of North America’s oldest human being from the rising waters behind Lower Monumental Dam will be relived during a program Saturday, Oct. 3, on the WSU campus.
As part of Washington state’s sixth annual Archaeology Month, scientists will discuss the project that discovered what were at the time the oldest human remains ever found in the Western Hemisphere at the 1-2:30 p.m. program set for the Museum of Anthropology in WSU’s College Hall.
WSU Professor Emeritus Carl Gustafson, a member of the original project, and Brent Hicks, an anthropologist with the Colville Tribe, will discuss the significance of the findings.
The human remains from the Marmes Rock-Shelter were first discovered in 1965 by WSU archaeologist Roald Fryxell at the cave on the lower Palouse River that had been under excavation since 1962. The discovery brought national news organizations to the Palouse area at the time.
“This was a major news event,” said Mary Collins, assistant director of the anthropology museum. “Not only because of what was found, but because the site was going to be flooded by the rising waters behind the Lower Monumental Dam.”
After the remains were discovered, scientists worked quickly to excavate as much as possible from the rock-shelter before the water rose onto the flood plain.
“President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to build a levee to hold back the waters behind the Lower Monumental Dam to save the site,” Collins said. However, the levee did not hold as engineers expected.
The site was preserved because crews laid miles of plastic over the excavation area, and then buried it in sand. The precaution, with the levee, helped preserve the site against erosion from moving water.
Currently, the Collville Tribe has a three-year project to produce a thorough report of the excavations. Such a report was not completed at the time because of Fryxell’s untimely death in car accident.
Many of the artifacts from the site will be on exhibit at the museum during the program.
Editors Note: Mary Collins can be reached at her office, 509/335-4314.