Richard Daugherty examining an artifact shaped like a whale fin.
Daugherty examining an artifact.

In 1970, a violent storm uncovered a Makah village that was buried by a mudslide more than 300 years earlier. A newly re-opened museum tells the fascinating story of the ancient site.

Due to the suddenness of the event and the exceptional levels of preservation, scientists hailed the find a “Western Pompeii” and the Washington Post called it “the most comprehensive collection of artefacts of a pre-European-contact Indian culture ever discovered in the United States.”

Anxious the material might be engulfed by the sea and lost, the tribe called in Richard Daugherty, an influential archaeologist at Washington State University who’d been involved in fieldwork in the area since the 1940s. Having good connections with Congress, Daugherty helped secure federal funding for an exhaustive excavation.

“Dr. Daugherty was instrumental in the excavation work,” recounted Rebekah Monette, a tribal member and historic preservation programme manager. “He was very progressive and interested in working alongside the tribe in the process. He worked to gain financing for 11 years.”

The Ozette dig lasted from 1970 until 1981 and ultimately unearthed around 55,000 artefacts from six beachside cedar houses covered by the slide. The Makah, like many indigenous groups, have a strong oral tradition, with much of their history passed down through storytelling, song and dance. The evidence unearthed at Ozette affirmed these stories and added important details.

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