Digging up the past: Magnolia’s old, new archeological finds

Then: 23 Years Ago

In the book “Magnolia: Making More Memories,” in Dale Forbus Hogle’s chapter “The West Point Dig: A Legacy,” she wrote: “Today’s peaceful appearance and seemingly unchanged shape of the sand spit we call West Point was not always so. Steep bluffs and narrow fjord-like passages left by melting Ice Age glaciers afforded no beaches. Condors soared overhead. Sea and land were racked by furious winds, earthquakes, landslides and tidal waves. The sea rose and fell. Then, about 5,000 years ago, the sea level stabilized, and a beach was formed.

“The beach offered shellfish in abundance. The sea was filled with marine life of great variety. The uplands above the cliffs that bordered the beach teemed with wildlife. Douglas fir, red cedar, hemlock and alder rose high above the beach, sheltering birds and mammals. Oceanspray, huckleberry, blackberry and fern grew thickly under the trees.

“The stage was set for human habitation. [More than] 4,000 years ago, humans began to inhabit this idyllic location below the cliffs.”

Forbus Hogle then outlines in great and interesting detail the archeological dig that occurred on Magnolia as a result of an accidental discovery during the expansion of the West Point treatment plant in 1992: “West Point’s archaeological site was a landmark discovery. Cultural material was identified in 17 locations throughout the Metro project area at elevations between 2.8 meters below and 2.07 meters above sea level. No other site in middle or south Puget Sound had yielded such old material…. For archaeologists, it was an exciting event.”

This dig that uncovered prehistoric finds established that Native people had hunted and gathered seasonally, establishing a timeline of occupancy and record of artifacts of a living style of Native people 4,000 years ago on Magnolia’s West Point beach. Original artifacts are now in the permanent collection at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The news of this landmark find spread in the academic field, and it was considered the dig of the decade. Subsequently, teaching kits were made for use at the Burke and Discovery Park so the public could learn the facts of this astonishing find. The Burke also has created an educational, award-winning website at www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/westpoint that tells the story of West Point’s archaeology.

According to Forbus Hogle: “The enormity and variety of material collected during the archaeological excavations included 8,000 pieces of fire-modified rock, weighing a total of 1.2 metric tons; 27 decorated artifacts comprised of labrets (lip plugs), bracelet fragments, pendants, a blanket pin, gaming pieces and beads of ground stone, wood and shell; and 121 bone and antler artifacts, with adzes, awls, bipoints, chisels, fleshers, needles, a net gauge and rodent incisors representing numerous activities.”


It is little known that on Aug. 8, 2014, there was a new archeological historic find on Magnolia of an early 20th-century shanty town called Finntown at Smith Cove, the area first settled by Magnolia’s first European pioneer, Dr. Henry Smith. This is one of a few temporary housing sites that sprung up during Depression times.

There seems to have been several of these small communities scattered near Magnolia, mainly in Interbay, according to local historian Mimi Sheridan.

Excavation on Magnolia at Smith Cove is being done by King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD), as part of installing a wastewater overflow system.

In a news release done by King County WTD especially for this article, we learned: “The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) required WTD to identify and assess potential effects of the project on any historic resources and archaeological sites. The NHPA is a federal law outlining responsibilities for governments to preserve our nation’s heritage.

“Upon discovery of the historic site, WTD worked with Ecology, [the] Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and tribes to develop plans to determine the boundaries of the site and recover the artifacts. Between Aug 12 and Aug. 15, Environmental Science Associates (ESA) conducted fieldwork to determine the boundaries of the historical site and recover the artifacts. Artifact recovery continued into early September.

“Two types of artifacts recovered indicate a Native American presence: a chisel or wedge, constructed from the femur of a large animal; pieces of historic glass that appear to have been intentionally flaked (creating small glass tools).

“The site appears to be the remains of a multi-ethnic, transient, low-income neighborhood located on the tide flats of Smith Cove, circa 1920-1930s. More than 2,400 artifacts were recovered from the site and inventoried by ESA staff, including a large number of alcohol and other beverage bottles from this Prohibition-era site.

“Other artifacts suggest the presence of Japanese, Chinese and Euro-Americans. Notable artifacts include a Chinese coin from the Qing (Ch’ing ) Dynasty, dating between 1644 and 1911; a toy fork, suggesting the presence of children; and a Nippon beer bottle, manufactured between 1921 and 1933.”

The dig is not yet complete; there is still excavation going on at 32nd Avenue West that, according King County WTD project manager Monica Van der Vieren, could potentially uncover more historic artifacts or even some prehistoric finds evidencing Native people in that area possibly because of the existence of the freshwater-source Wolf(e) Creek there.

There will be an official archeological report. Artifacts need to go through a long process of verification and then eventual assessing at the Burke Museum. According to Van der Vieren, there will be a community meeting about the dig and the findings sometime in the future.


MONICA WOOTON is interim president of the Magnolia Historical Society (www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.