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Kalispel Tribe and WSU partner on 5,000-year-old archeological excavation

The project could reveal new insights into the foods the Kalispel people have been preparing and eating in the Inland Northwest for the last 5,000 years.

NEWPORT, Wash. — The Kalispel Tribe is collaborating with Washington State University (WSU) archeologists on a 5,000-year-old archeological excavation that will help reveal more about the history of the Kalispel Tribe’s indigenous food systems.

WSU researchers said Ancient Tribal earth ovens, which were built long before the Egyptian pyramids, are being excavated as part of the first archeological project ever made public by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

Archeologists, tribal representatives and WSU students will be participating in the excavation taking place on Monday, June 5 near Newport. 

The excavation will provide an opportunity for the tribe to discover more of its history and preserve any artifacts located in what researchers believe was an ancient tribal hunting camp on the banks of the Pend Oreille River.

“As a tribe, we’ve never shared this kind of historical excavation experience with the public,” Kalispel Tribal elder Shirley Blackbear said. “But I think it is important for non-Natives to learn and understand more about our tribe. Our history and traditions are very rich and important to us. Cooking techniques have been passed down from generation to generation.”

According to the statement, the earth ovens were discovered after the Kalispel Tribe purchased land near Newport to accommodate the need for additional tribal housing near the reservation. 

The artifacts are being carefully removed from the ground to make way for this essential tribal housing. According to previous research on the site, the project could reveal new insights into the foods the Kalispel people have been preparing and eating in the Inland Northwest for the last 5,000 years.

Usually, tribes have not always been consulted during archeological digs, but the 5,000-year-old archeological excavation will be an exception.

Kalispel Tribal archaeologist Kevin Lyons said tribal leadership decided to partner with WSU experts on the project due to its scale and scientific complexity.

“This is one of those rare occasions where the tribe, with its own expertise, could do this on its own, but we would wind up doing it to the exclusion of everything else, and we already have other standing obligations,” Lyons said. “We are partnering with WSU archeologists on this project because we have a long tradition of working with them and know that they will do justice to the Tribe’s history and its tangible footprint.”

The excavation is led by a WSU professor of archeology, Shannon Tushingham, who has worked with the tribe for many years, and fourth-year students who will get first-hand experience practicing techniques essential to careers in professional archeology.

“It is really about teaching students the archeological skills they will need to get jobs in the growing field of cultural resource management,” Tushingham said. “We are training the next generation of professional archeologists how to work with tribal communities and interact with them in a meaningful and professional way. We are honored to be hosted by the Kalispel Tribe.”

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