Vandals strike Squaxin tribal archaeological site

MUD BAY - For the second time in two years, vandals have struck an archaeology site occupied centuries ago by Squaxin Island tribal ancestors, this time disturbing the site and stealing a tent used by field researchers.

The 700-year-old fish camp and seafood-processing site called Qwu?gwes is in its ninth year as an active archaeological dig involving the tribe, South Puget Sound Community College and Mud Bay property owners Ralph and Karen Munro.

Someone entered the tribal sacred place by boat at high tide Sunday, tunneled into one of the excavation cells, stole one tent and tossed a "no trespassing" sign and a second tent into Eld Inlet. The sign and one canopy were recovered Monday at low tide, but some of the damage is irreversible, said SPSCC anthropology professor Dale Croes.

"It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle that's now missing a piece or two," Croes said. He was unsure whether anything of cultural value was stolen.

News of the vandalism and theft sent a wave of panic through tribal members, who take great pride in this tangible link to their ancestors, said Larry Ross, a cultural resource specialist with the Squaxins.

"It's like a personal invasion," he said. "A lot of times, it's people who don't have a clue what they're doing."

The vandalism could be racially motivated, said Croes, who has worked on a number of American Indian archaeological sites throughout the Northwest.

Thievery and vandalism at active archaeological sites are a common problem nationwide, said state Department of Agriculture archaeologist Scott Williams, who was working at the Mud Bay site along with about 18 college students Tuesday.

In many cases, thefts have been traced to methamphetamine addicts who traffic in stolen artifacts, he said. The Mud Bay site is a treasure trove of early American Indian culture, telling a story of how indigenous people of South Sound gathered, processed and cooked salmon and shellfish centuries before white settlers arrived.

Items recovered include portions of a cedar bark gillnet, ornamental basketry, shell jewelry and arrows, spears and weights made of stone, bone and wood.

"To think that someone would come in and purposely damage the site just overwhelms me," said Munro, former secretary of state and a South Sound history buff.

Vandals also struck the site over the July 4 weekend in 2005.

The college field class works at the site under Croes' supervision from June 25 to Aug. 9. About 2 percent of the site has been excavated. The agreement among the tribe, college and Munros calls for 10 percent of the site to be examined.

Ideas being considered to improve security include installing a security camera and cordoning the site off with a float net to keep boaters away, Munro and Croes said. Whom to call

Anyone with information about the vandalism and theft is asked to call the Thurston County Crime Stoppers Hot Line at 360-493-2222. Museum

Many of the items found at the Mud Bay archaeological site are on display at the Squaxin Island Museum, which is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, including directions to the museum, go to www.squaxinislandmuseum.org.

Whom to call

Anyone with information about the vandalism and theft is asked to call the Thurston County Crime Stoppers Hot Line at 360-493-2222.