An amazing and sad story in today’s Seattle Times looks at the construction on the Hood Canal bridge, which has run into snags after uncovering what’s possibly one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the Seattle area.

The excavation inadvertently unearthed Tse-whit-zen, the largest prehistoric Indian village ever discovered in Washington, portions of which date back more than 1,700 years.

With each shovel of dirt, the state and tribe have come to realize what they are grappling with. One of Washington’s largest transportation projects is amid the region’s richest archaeological site, including an ancient cemetery.

Excavation has desecrated grave after grave, including 264 intact human skeletons so far, and more than 700 isolates, or bone fragments. The remains reveal statements of rank, of love and grief: shamans dusted with red ochre; couples buried with limbs intertwined; mass graves, signaling smallpox.

More than 5,000 artifacts have surfaced, including blanket pins fashioned in the shapes of animals; a stone rake for harvesting herring; hand tools; even the intact, sacrificial remains of sea otters offered to the spirit world.

The unprecedented discovery is causing anguish to both sides. Already facing delays costing tens of millions of dollars, the state wants to limit the tribe’s insistence to search for more remains. At risk is the state’s ability to replace the eastbound lanes of the Hood Canal Bridge, a critical project, state officials say, that is more than a year behind schedule.

But the tribe is insisting the state keep exploring for remains the tribe does not want entombed below a 10-acre concrete slab. Such a barrier would condemn the spirits of the dead buried below to be forever separated from their loved ones, said Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

So far, the conflict has defied resolution.

(via MeFi)