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4,000- to 7,000-year-old spear found on UW campus

SEATTLE — University of Washington freshman Ellen Van Wyk was digging up rocks from a campus garden when she made her discovery a stone spear tip that archaeologists believe was fashioned some 4,000 to 7,000 years ago.

The find is generating both excitement and anxiety for the university: excitement because of its significance, anxiety because of potential delays such a find can cause to upcoming construction projects.

Van Wyk said she was removing rocks to plant grape vines when she came across the 3-inch projectile tip about a foot down in the earth.

“It was really cool. I had no idea how much history was involved,” she said. “Since it was that shallow, I didn’t expect it to be that old.”

Peter Lape, an associate professor of anthropology and the curator of archaeology at the UW’s Burke Museum, said Van Wyk’s discovery holds significance.

“People find stuff all the time. But that one projectile point is actually pretty unusual. You don’t see a lot of those,” he said. “That style seems very limited to the Lake Union and Lake Washington area. It’s kind of cool; it’s very interesting.”

After Van Wyk made her discovery Oct. 22, archaeologists from the Burke dug three more test holes nearby. They unearthed two more stone tool fragments.

That prompted the Burke to contact the state’s Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, which likely will require permits for further excavation.

Other artifacts have been discovered on the UW campus, but not since the 1940s, said Laura Phillips, who manages the Burke’s archaeological collections.

She said the Burke will curate Van Wyk’s find and hopefully put it on display.

Phillips said archaeological data and historic research indicate that Native people lived for thousands of years on the site where UW now sits.

The discovery could cause delays to a new biology building that has been planned for the site.

School officials are in the early stages of that project and have been conducting a feasibility study.

“It’s fairly politically sensitive,” said Lape, who noted there was some delay before the Burke announced the find this week.

He said there is heightened concern about archaeological finds after the state spent $70 million before walking away in 2004 from constructing a dry dock atop the ancient Tse-whit-zen village and burial ground on the Port Angeles waterfront.

Lape said that with other major projects planned around the campus Sound Transit’s light-rail line, the new 520 floating bridge, and renovations to Husky Stadium there is always the possibility of further discoveries.

He added that archaeological assessments have already been completed for those projects.

For now, the Burke and UW students are excited about the find, and hope to get permission from state authorities to keep digging in search of more artifacts.

“The students in my class are really enthusiastic about working on this,” Lape said.

“It’s on our campus and it would be a great thing for our students to be involved with.”

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