A new chapter began for the historic tribal Ozette village in 1981. Located 14 miles south of Neah Bay, near Lake Ozette, in the U.S. state of Washington, the once-abandoned Native American habitation had been obscured by layers of mud for over 400 years, buried by a colossal mudslide that kept over 55,000 artifacts hidden.
As of the 2017 census, Neah Bay is home to over 1,500 members of the indigenous Makah Indian Tribe whose attention was brought to the unveiling of the Ozette village by a hiker in the winter of 1970, following a ferocious storm that caused the bank of the village to subside.
Within the subsequent two months, the chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, Ed Claplanhoo had contacted the head of the Washington Archeological Research Center of Washington State University, archeologist Richard D. Daugherty, who along with students of the institution, fellow archaeologists, and tribal members, was instrumental in unearthing what is now the 27,000-acre Ozette Archaeological Site.
In reaching out to the expert, Claplanhoo made known that “High tides and large waves have undermined the cliff at Ozette, exposing planks and timbers of an ancient home of our ancestors. We believe it is of the utmost urgency that someone like you should be here to make certain none of the artifacts are washed out to sea and lost.”
The excavation process required 11 years, uncovering six cedar longhouses and hundreds of thousands of artifacts which spanned a duration of approximately 2,000 years. The finds told much of the cultural practices and social advancement of the Makah Tribe. Archaeologist Gary Wessen summed it up by stating, “The Makah were skilled woodworkers…They exhibited levels of sophistication regarding technology that weren’t appreciated before.”
This sophistication could be found in their weaponry such as bows and arrows, household items, wooden valuables, and more. Clear signs of their ties to whale and seal hunting could be deciphered as well, from carvings engraved on over 400 wooden boxes which contained food and tool kits—all in tact—as described by Richard Daugherty, who also noted the discovery of additional settlements at the site.
Daugherty shared with the Washington Post “We have dug deep below the buried village in exploratory tests and have encountered what appears to be still other dwellings much farther underground: a village covered by an earlier slide occurring 850 years ago, a village beneath the buried village we are now unearthing…”.
Concurrently, Wessen described Ozette as “a spectacular place to excavate,” hailing the preservation and richness as extraordinary. Thus, along with the help of Daugherty, no time was wasted in fulfilling the Makah Tribe’s request to safeguard such a special part of their heritage.
To aid their efforts to preserve the invaluable discoveries, Daugherty appealed to government agencies to provide funding for the project and to erect a museum that would both store and showcase the relics. $1.46 million was donated by The Economic Development Administration with assistance also received from the Makah Tribal Council, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Crown Zellerbach Foundation.
Housed at the museum are two 30 to 40 feet long cedar canoes created for hunting seals, porpoises, and whales, house plants with carved thunderbird gods, whales and wolves, 13-foot-long whaling harpoons, lances, bows, arrows, knives, and adzes, wooden clubs used for killing seals, ceremonial clubs fashioned from baleen, otherwise called whalebone, and a 70-by-30-foot communal home.
The Makah Museum officially opened in 1979 and decades later, Makah Tribe members continue to be intricately involved in the preservation and processing of artifacts at the site, which is accessible for viewing by visitors who desire to experience the indigenous group’s most outstanding cultural display.