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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains and Funerary Objects from Sullivans Island Skamania County, Washington, in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Northwest Coast
Associated Cultures: Chinook


 This report summarizes available information bearing on the cultural affiliation and context of human remains and funerary objects from Sullivans Island in Washington.  The information includes ethnological, ethnohistorical, archaeological, historical, and linguistic evidence that is relevant to determining the cultural affiliation of the objects in question and in evaluating whether the objects are funerary.  Sullivan’s Island was a burial island, a Memaloose island, of which there are several in the Columbia River. The island lies close to the Washington bank of the Columbia near the Cascades.  Smithsonian archaeologist Herbert Krieger excavated the island in 1934 as part of a
series of archaeological investigations of sites threatened by construction of the Bonneville dam. Krieger never published his findings. The report documents the fragmentary remains of a minimum of  seven individuals in three catalogue numbers, along with very small fragments of bone that were fused with melted glass beads, and 75,788 associated and unassociated funerary objects  in the collections of the NMNH. 

 The objects were contained within 222 catalogue numbers and 2,874 electronic records. Of the objects, 56,343 were glass trade beads. These objects provide a striking profile of the abundance of trade materials that traveled along the Columbia River, the region’s great thoroughfare.  Dating from the late 1700s to the late 1800s, the Sullivans Island collection includes over 243 copper pendants, 201 copper bracelets, copper rings, tubular copper beads, historic ceramics, pipes, kettles, trade cloth, thimbles, Northwest Coast tokens, 1,095 historic period buttons, including phoenix buttons, Chinese, British and Russian coins, gun plates, and, interestingly, a piece of brass coffin hardware bearing a winged angel motif.  This object had been perforated and, based on the extensive amount of usewear, appears to have been worn as a pendant for some time before coming full cycle and reassuming its original identity as a funerary item. 

These materials represent the wealth of a people who controlled a significant passage along the Columbia River and who lived at one of the river’s great salmon fisheries known as the Cascades. The objects here tell the story of the Chinookan inhabitants of the Cascades, of their skill at trading, and they also tell a harder story of the epidemics that swept through the region and killed many of the inhabitants.  

Based on the preponderance of available evidence, the human remains and funerary objects have been found to be culturally affiliated with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.  It is recommended that the Sullivans Island collection be jointly offered for return to the federally recognized tribes listed above and it is also recommended that the currently non-federally recognized Chinook Nation be informed of this decision. 

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Smithsonian Institute - National Mueseum of Natural History