On January 14, Matt Kiddle and his four-year-old son were biking on the Olympic Discovery Trail near Port Angeles, Washington when they found human remains: a dark brown skull and mandible, reports the Peninsula Daily News’ Paul Gottlieb. Initially concerned that they had stumbled upon the remains of a missing person, Kiddle called the authorities, before realizing that they were ancient.
A forensic archaeologist determined that the bones are between 500 and 1,000 years old, and on January 31, officials from the state’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation confirmed that the bones are of Native American origin, per Peninsula Daily News.
The remains were unearthed after coastal erosion caused part of the trail to collapse in December. The Olympic Discovery Trail traces the east-to-west path on the entire northern edge of the Olympic peninsula, making use of land cleared for railroad tracks that were removed in the 1980s. The trail was initially closed after the section collapsed, but Kiddle and his son wanted a closer look.
“We hopped onto the beach and there it was; it was just right on the beach,” Kiddle, who is a physician assistant, tells Peninsula Daily News. “I would say it was definitely an adult size skull. The teeth were mature.”
Near the skull, the pair also spotted what Kiddle suspects was a shoulder blade. A few days later, on January 18, a person walking on the same area of the beach found a piece of a hip bone. And during an official excavation, more remains were found on January 29.
Sections of the trail are managed by the state, cities, and resident Native American tribes. The collapsed section is managed by the city of Port Angeles, but historical and archaeological officials of local tribes were present for recent excavations.
“There were representatives on hand from the State Department of Archaeological and Historic Preservation as well as representatives from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe,” coroner Mark Nichols told Pepper Fisher at Radio Pacific Inc. “…Whether or not there’s going to be further site visits and survey remains to be seen.”
Finding human remains isn’t entirely unusual in Clallam County, a local sheriff’s office told Q13 in 2018. Last fall, an excavation revealed ancient human remains near Discovery Bay. In 2018, people walking along Port Williams Beach found a skull that was glued to the top of a stick in an unusual case of desecration.
When Washington's Department of Archaeological and Historical Preservation determines which tribe the newly found bones belong to, they will repatriate the remains so they can be respectfully reburied, Peninsula Daily News reports.
The one and a half mile stretch of trail that collapsed has been held together with fabric and rock armor, but the community hopes to have the trail repaired in time for a local relay race at the end of February, per the Peninsula Daily News’ Rob Ollikainen. The coastal erosion that caused the landslide in the first place, however, is an ongoing and growing problem for the region.
“I always thought it would be a slide that takes out the trail,” Corey Delikat, Port Angeles' parks and recreation director, told city council in January. “Over the last two and a half years, I’ve seen more damage from high tides and windstorms than I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”