Ozette Village, Cape Alava

Ozette Village, Cape Alava

by | Feb 14, 2022

Ozette is a historical Makah village situated at Cape Alava, the westernmost point of the Olympic Peninsula, about 19 miles (31 km) north-northwest of La Push and 15 miles (24 km) south-southwest of Neah Bay, Washington. Cape Alava was named for José Manuel de Álava who in 1790, became the interim Spanish Governor of Acapulco and represented New Spain at the Nootka Convention. The village name is derived from the word ‘Ho-selth’ in the Makah language. The name ‘Makah’ means ‘cape people’. The structural geology of the cape results from the tectonic convergence between the oceanic and North American plates during middle-late Eocene and late-middle Miocene that produced two principal accretionary terranes on the continental margin of Washington. The only onshore exposures of the mélange are along the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, where they have been transported eastward during subduction-accretion tectonics. Geological exploration indicates that these structurally complex rocks are widespread on the Washington inner continental shelf. Along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula, the terrane that formed during the late Eocene convergence is informally referred to as the Ozette mélange and broken formation. The accretionary terrane that formed in late middle Miocene time is informally named the Hoh mélange and broken formation. Cape Alava and the adjacent offshore islands belong to the Ozette mélange consisting mostly of sandstone and siltstone. On Ozette and Tskawahyah Islands, the rock consists of thick cobble and pebble conglomerates with the clasts composed chiefly of sedimentary rock. On the mainland, most of the Ozette bedrock is buried by glacial till and outwash deposits from Pleistocene continental and alpine glaciers during the  Fraser Glaciation. Ozette village was established at Cape Alava as a prime location for intercepting migrating gray whales and the site was occupied for over two thousand years. One or more mudslides buried the settlement, and the site has subsequently proven to be a rich archaeological find yielding artifacts at least 2,500 years old.

Prior to contact with Europeans, the Makah people lived in villages at Neah Bay, Ozette, Biheda, Tsoo-yess, and Why-atch. The Makah at Ozette lived in cedar-plank longhouses, hunted and fished in the ocean, collected shellfish from the intertidal, and hunted mammals and gathered plants from the forest. The Ozette houses were large, up to 70 feet (21 m) long and about 35 feet (11 m) wide and built of planks split from cedar logs and lashed to a framework of upright cedar posts. Each house was occupied by several families and visiting relatives. About 300 years ago, during especially heavy rain and perhaps initiated by an earthquake, the hillside above the village slumped and a mudslide buried 5 longhouses. Some people escaped but others were caught inside. A layer of clay capped the destroyed houses preserving them and all their contents. In 1788, British Captain John Meares was the first European to see the vast and dense forests of the Pacific coast and described the land along the Olympic Peninsula. In 1790, Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper claimed Neah Bay on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula for Spain and named it Nuñez Gaona. In 1792, the Spanish Captain Salvador Fidalgo established the first European settlement in Makah territory at Neah Bay. The new settlers planned to stay permanently; however, Spain was forced to retreat from the Pacific Northwest under threat of war with Great Britain. In 1834, a dismasted and rudderless ship ran aground near Cape Alava with a crew of Japanese sailors. The ship had left its home port on the southeast coast of Japan in 1832, with a crew of 14 and a cargo of rice and porcelain, on what was supposed to be a routine journey of a few hundred miles to Edo, present-day Tokyo. Instead, it was hit by a typhoon and swept out to sea. It drifted 5,000 miles (8,046 km) across the Pacific ocean before finally reaching the northwest coast with three survivors. Their names were Iwakichi, Kyukichi, and Otokichi and they were briefly enslaved by the Makah. The castaways were eventually traded and spent several months at Fort Vancouver before being sent on to London and eventually to China, but were never able to return to their homeland. In 1855, representatives of the Makah tribe signed the Treaty of Neah Bay with Isaac Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory. The treaty ceded much of their traditional lands and restricted the Makah to a reservation; however, it preserved the Makah people’s rights to hunt whales and seals.

Following a winter storm in 1970, wave erosion during a high tide exposed hundreds of well-preserved wooden artifacts at Cape Alava. Ozette longhouses buried by the mudslide centuries before were exposed. Archaeological excavations revealed the houses and their contents including ordinarily perishable wood, basketry, blankets woven from dog hair, and dentalium shells. Based on excavations and oral tradition, daily life in Ozette village could be portrayed, including longhouse construction, clothing, whale and seal hunts, fishing, social structure, slavery, ceremonies, and potlatches. Of the artifacts recovered, roughly 30,000 were made of wood, extraordinary in that wood generally decays quickly. Hundreds of knives were recovered, with blade materials ranging from mussel shells  to sharpened beaver teeth, and iron, presumed to have drifted from Asia on wrecked ships. The archaeological work culminated in the opening of the Makah Museum in 1979 with displays of replicas of cedar longhouses as well as dioramas of whaling, fishing, and sealing. Archaeological investigations at the Ozette site recovered whaling tools and over 3400 whalebones including bones with embedded harpoon blades. Grey whales and hump­back whales were captured frequently and right whales and finback whales were taken infre­quently. Whalebones and baleen were used as raw materials for tool manufacture and bones were used as building materials. Whale meat and blubber were consumed. When the amount of food represented by all the faunal remains is considered, whales probably accounted for more than 75% of all meat and oil; however, some of this was likely traded for other commodities. The artifacts discovered at Ozette confirmed that the Makah were highly skilled whale hunters and that whaling was an important part of their culture and economy. Read more here and here. Explore more of Ozette and Cape Alava here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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