“We use math, we use known sites, we use landforms, ethnographic reports, all that kind of information goes into a predictive model,” she said.
State law protects archaeological sites, whether on public or private land, so as to preserve and protect the state’s history. Artifacts and resources found on public land are property of the state, while any finds on private land belong to the property owner.
The Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has more than 27,000 archaeological sites on file, with more than 800 of those in Clark County. The oldest site reports on file date to the 1890s, and the office records an average of 30 new sites each month.
Although the county has a rich history, from the many Native American groups and, later, the white settlers who called it home, a “high” probability doesn’t mean there’s any history buried under Bechtel’s backyard.
What the designations really do, Bazala said, is they guide whether a builder needs to check to make sure there isn’t anything of archaeological significance going on under a planned project.
• Find out the archaeological probability where you live by checking your address at http://gis.clark.wa.gov/applications/gishome/property/ and looking at the Habitat and Cultural Resources section under the Environmental section of your property information.
For the builder, that means getting a determination as to whether a more thorough examination, or a full-on dig, of a site is needed to protect any possible historical resources.
A lot of that typically means doing research in archived documents, walking sites and, maybe doing some test digs, Bazala said, all done by a qualified archaeologist.
Generally, he said, if someone is going to do some kind of substantial digging, they’ll in most cases have to get an archaeological predetermination and file some paperwork with the state.
The county hasn’t had a staff archaeologist for some time, and although he’s a planner and not an archaeologist, most site reviews don’t go beyond the initial research and site checks, Bazala said.
He estimated 80 percent of them don’t turn up anything.