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Human remains found on Coupeville beach spark intrigue

By JUSTIN BURNETT Whidbey Examiner Staff
March 21, 2013 · 1:44 PM
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Justin Burnett photo Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton walks along the beach near where human remains were discovered by a pair of pre-med students this past Friday. A state specialist is expected to examine the jaw bone this week. / Justin Burnett photo

Two visiting pre-med students discovered a human jawbone on a beach in Coupeville last week.

Coupeville police launched an investigation, but Marshal Lance Davenport said there is little cause for public concern as the remains appear to be very old.

“The best I can say is there appears to have been no foul play and that they are archeologically based,” Davenport said.

The remains were turned over to the Island County Coroners Office shortly after their discovery.

Attempts to reach Coroner Robert Bishop for comment Monday were unsuccessful for this story.

Officials with the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, however, confirmed that a specialist will be in Coupeville Wednesday to examine the remains and determine whether they are Native American in origin.

“We don’t know anything yet,” said Allyson Brooks, the state historic preservation officer and agency chief.

The remains were found late Friday afternoon about 200 yards west of the Coupeville Wharf by Emily Johnson, 20, and Alyssa Temte, 21, of St. Paul, Minn. They were visiting friends and decided to take a beach walk when they made the discovery.

“We just looked down and saw a jawbone,” Johnson said.

Both are pre-med biology majors at Northwestern College who have already taken human anatomy classes. They knew right away it was no animal bone, that it belonged to a person, she said.

“It was definitely human,” Johnson said.

They quickly called police and a deputy marshal came down to investigate. Access to the beach goes right past the Port of Coupeville’s office and the commotion attracted the attention of Port Executive Director Jim Patton.

His curiosity piqued, Patton followed the officer down to the discovery site for a better look. He said the jawbone appeared “very old” and had just 11 teeth – all of the incisors were missing.

“There were no front teeth and all those in the back were very worn down,” he said.

Johnson said they found the jawbone close to the bluff, near a point of erosion, so it’s unclear whether it came from material that had sloughed off the cliff face or simply washed in with the tide.

Rick Castellano, executive director of the Island County Historical Society and the museum in Coupeville, confirmed Native Americans once inhabited the area so it’s entirely possible the remains are ancestral.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.

Central Whidbey, particularly Penn Cove, is an archeological hot spot. According to Castellano, the area was once home to at least four villages, all located along the cove’s shoreline.

Oak Harbor was also home to Native Americans and unexpected discoveries have been a headache for city planners.

In 2011, remains found under Pioneer Way stalled a major road project and, to date, has cost the city nearly $4 million.

Despite the many known sites that dot the area, Brooks said it was way too soon to make any conclusions.

She declined to speculate on the origins of the jawbone until after the examination.

“We’ll know more by the end of the week,” Brooks said.

 


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