• Beth Mathews

Protection of Archaeological Resources in the City of Olympia and Thurston County

The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has records for over 35,000 archaeological sites in Washington State. Over 300 archaeological sites have been recorded in Thurston County, and 65 historic properties have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An unknown number of other sites remain unrecorded in Thurston County. Before we get into local codes, let's take a quick look at Washington State Laws:


In Washington State it is illegal to knowingly disturb archaeological sites or certain archaeological materials on state and private lands. Laws protecting these resources include the Archaeological Sites and Resources Law (RCW 27.53), Indian Graves and Records Law (RCW 27.44), Human Remains Law (RCW 68.50), and Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries and Historic Graves Law (RCW 68.60). Per RCW 27.53.060 and WAC 25-48-060 the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation may issue an archaeological site alteration/excavation permit for impacts to an archaeological site in accordance with a professional scientific research plan lead by a professional archaeologist. This means that if archaeology is encountered on a property, a formal research plan should be developed in consultation with Local, State, and Tribal governments before any impacts are planned to the site.


A number of laws guide the process by which archaeological resources are identified in Washington State, including the State Environmental Policy Act, Governor's Executive Order 21-02, and Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition to these laws and their associated review processes, local governments also protect their resources through codes and review processes. Some archaeological sites are considered more significant than others, but these review processes ensure that we avoid impacting sites that have the ability to teach us about the past.


The Washington Heritage Register (WHR), which is maintained by the Department of Archaeology Historic Preservation, is a list of historically significant districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are considered significant in local or state history. To qualify for listing on the WHR a building, site, structure, or object must be at least 50 years old, or should have documented exceptional significance if less than 50 years old. The resource should have historical significance at the local, state, or federal level, and should maintain a high to medium level of integrity of important character defining features.


1850-1910 Archaeological Deposit in Thurston County

Thurston County

Thurston County Shoreline Master Program

The preservation of historical and archaeological sites is among the policies of the Thurston County Shoreline Master Program, in compliance with the Washington State Shoreline Management Act (RCW 90.58.100) which requires that local jurisdictions include historic and cultural protection and restoration in their permit considerations. One of the eight plan elements identified in the plan is Historical and Cultural Values: "This element deals with the preservation or restoration of buildings, sites and natural features having historic, cultural, scientific, educational or physically unique characteristics. Archaeological sites, ancient villages, military forts, old settlers' homes, ghost towns and pioneer trails are examples of cultural features included in this element."


Historical Significance

Per Thurston County Code 2.106.030, the definition of historic significance is

"a property with local, state or national significance is one which helps in the understanding of the history of the local area, state or nation (whichever is applicable) by illuminating the local, statewide or nationwide impact of the events or persons associated with the property, or its architectural type or style or information potential. The local area can include a city or town, Thurston County, the region of Puget Sound or southwest Washington, or a modest geographic or cultural area, such as neighborhood. Local significance may apply to a property that illustrates a theme that is important to one or more localities; state significance to a theme important to the history of the state; and national significance to property of exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme in the history of the nation."


Evaluation of Historic Properties for the Thurston County Historic Register

The Thurston County Historic Register (TCHR) is a list of places important to the history of Thurston County considered worthy of recognition and preservation. The TCHR consists of properties of historical, architectural, or archaeological importance, including birthplaces, graves, and cemeteries. To be listed on the TCHR a property must typically be 50 years old or of exceptional importance.


City of Olympia

The City of Olympia requires that cultural resources be protected from damage during construction or development activities. Per the City of Olympia Comprehensive Plan, the City prioritizes the protection and evaluation of historic and archaeological sites and seeks to preserve those elements of the community which are unique to Olympia or exemplify its heritage. The City of Olympia requires that cultural resources, defined as archaeological materials or human remains, be protected from damage during construction or development activities (Olympia Municipal Code 18.12.140A).


Evaluation of Historic Properties for the Olympia Heritage Register

What types of things are eligible for the City's historic register? The Olympia Heritage Register recognizes buildings, structures, objects, sites, or districts that have significant character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, state, or nation (Olympia Municipal Code 18.12.080). To be listed on the Olympia Heritage Register a property must typically be 50 years old or of exceptional importance if of lesser age and should possess integrity of at least two elements of location, design, setting, materials, and/or artisanship.


Consultation with Tribes

The Olympia Code stresses the importance of collaborating and consulting with Tribes as experts on local history and archaeology. If archaeological materials are identified in Olympia, a recommendation of the site's eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places shall be made in consultation with the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and interested Tribes (Olympia Municipal Code 18.12.120B). In the event that a site is determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the City "shall consult with DAHP and all interested Tribes for recommendations on appropriate mitigation of effects before construction resumes (Olympia Municipal Code 18.12.120C)." The City shall consult DAHP and all interested Tribes for recommendations on proposed construction impacts to archaeological resources, and "may deny or condition the permit to avoid harm to or destruction of the archaeological site (Olympia Municipal Code 18.12.120D)."

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