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Archeology meeting digs into history and future of tribe

SUQUAMISH — Nearly 50 people arrived at the Suquamish Tribe’s administrative center last Tuesday evening in anticipation of learning more about Old Man House, what it meant to the tribe and how the land formed. An evening of archeology was dug up by tribal employees, and both residents and members of the tribe were treated to an event coinciding with the end of Washington State’s Archeology Month.

Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman and tribal archeologist Dennis Lewarch presented both the history of Old Man House, a structure used by the Suquamish Tribe for hundreds of years before it was dismantled by settlers, and the past of the land itself starting 9,000 years ago when the last Ice Age ended, about 10,000 years ago.

The Old Man House building is thought to have been built in the 1790s, and perhaps took about four years to construct, Forsman said. It was a winter house for the tribe, and each family that used it had an “apartment” of sorts, or a family section that was their portion of the house. Much of the socialization took place around the central fire.

“There are no known photos of Old Man House other than one with the frame in the museum, but it’s not the actual house,” Forsman said. The photo shows crossbeams of the house, and a general outline, but does not illustrate what the building looked like when fully constructed. “It was the largest known winter house in the Puget Sound. One of the things about the Suquamish people that made them unique was the Puget Sound. They didn’t live near a major river like (other tribes).”

The house itself was 600 feet long by 40 feet wide, stretching farther than the park now named for it. Old Man House was as long as almost two football fields. It was built out of cedar and 60-foot long cross beams, Forsman said. The land the Suquamish Tribe chose to erect it upon more than 200 years ago went through its own transition, Lewarch said.

“Since I have been working for the tribe, I’ve got to answer many questions I’ve had for many years,” he said. “I started thinking about what Old Man House looked like, what it was... The title of the talk tonight ‘Mother Village of the Suquamish People’ should give you some idea. The Suquamish heartland goes to the base of the Cascade (Mountains) to Hood Canal.”

About 1,100 years ago, there was a major earthquake and two tidal waves originating from that event collided right at the Old Man House site, he said. One came from the north and one from the south before converging at what is now the park.

“First of all, for my comments, I want to thank you for an enlightening evening,” said tribal elder Ted George when the presentation was over. “Second, I’d like to thank you for bringing the youth here. It’s very important they know their history.”

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