As storms erode the cliffs of Northern California — and Oregon and Washington — buried Native American villages are increasingly at risk of crumbling into the Pacific Ocean, experts have revealed.
One such old Tolowa settlement was situated in a spot known as Shin-yvslh-sri~ — or Summer Place. It has already begun to be exposed by erosion in California's Redwood National Park.
The new information came as part of a network of Tolowa villages, of varying different sizes and importance, up and down the Southern Oregon and Northern California coastline, some dating back centuries.
Coastal cliffs in Redwood National park have eroded about 3 feet since 2007, according to park archaeologist Michael Peterson, who attributes the run of intense and frequent winter storms in the state to climate change.
"I've seen whole logs, redwood logs laying up on top the rocks that are like 12 feet above the high-tide level. You could tell how big the storm, the waves were," he told Oregon Public Broadcasting in May 2016.
"The whole acceleration has increased, and we're definitely losing sites more rapidly" all along the northern coast, said Rick Minor, an archeologist with Heritage Research Associates in Eugene, Oregon. "If we don't do something within next decade or so, we're going to have a huge loss of sites."
Park administrators and local tribes have worked together to stabilise the ground at the Summer Place site. They've built fences and trails to keep visitors out of erosion-prone areas, and have laid down jute fiber to hold the ground and encourage vegetation.
But the efforts haven't yet found such success. "At any place you have historic or prehistoric activity, in combination with climate change and erosion, you will have increased amount of artifacts coming to the surface," said Peterson.
Until now the position of the local tribes and the park has been to leave the remnants of the village — including artifacts and even bones — undisturbed. But the action of the storms — and ocean erosion — could force a change that would focus instead on studying the village before it completely washes away.
"I see the coastal bluffs eroding and then my traditionalist side want to kick in and say, 'our ancestors are falling into the ocean, what do we do?' How do we maintain their resting spots to where they're not disturbed? Or how do we address them in a way that is culturally appropriate?" asked Suntayea Steinruck a member of the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation and a tribal heritage preservation officer.