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Cultural Resources

The City of Tacoma is within the usual and accustomed lands of the Puyallup and Nisqually Tribes, and any development projects that include ground disturbance have the potential to encounter cultural resources. 


It is the responsibility of project managers and the City to ensure protection and proper treatment of such unanticipated discoveries through adherence to this unanticipated discovery plan (UDP).


Unanticipated Discovery Plan (UDP)

 The UDP outlines procedures to perform in the event of discovering archaeological materials or human remains, in accordance with state and federal laws.  It is a felony to knowingly disturb an archaeological site or human burial in Washington State (RCW 27.53 and RCW 27.44)


Recognizing Cultural Resources

 A cultural resource discovery could be prehistoric or historic. Examples include:

  • An accumulation of shell, burned rocks, or other food related materials.
  • Bones or small pieces of bone.
  • An area of charcoal or very dark stained soil with artifacts.
  • Stone tools or waste flakes (i.e. an arrowhead. or stone chips).
  • Clusters of tin cans or bottles, logging or agricultural equipment that appears to be older than 50 years.
  • Buried railroad tracks, decking, or other industrial materials.

When in doubt, assume the material is a cultural resource.


Examples of Cultural Resources

What You Should Do If You Make an Unanticipated Discovery


STEP 1: Stop Work. If any employee, contractor or subcontractor believes that he or she has uncovered a cultural resource at any point in the project, all work must stop immediately.


Notify the appropriate party(s). Leave the surrounding area untouched, and provide a demarcation adequate to provide the total security, protection, and integrity of the discovery.

  • The discovery location must be secured at all times to a 30’ radius by a temporary fence or other onsite security. No work shall commence within that perimeter until an archaeologist and or tribal representative have made a determination as to whether the find is a cultural resource.
  • Suspected or known cultural resources are highly confidential. Do not discuss with media, bystanders or the public, or post to social media. Do not attach documents or correspondence that includes site data/locations to publicly accessible platforms, including as attachments to reports in the permit portal.

STEP 2: Notify Archaeological Monitor or Licensed Archaeologist. If there is an archaeological monitor for the project, notify that person. If there is a monitoring plan in place, the monitor will follow the outlined procedure.  If there is no archaeological monitor or archaeologist on-call, proceed to Step 3.


STEP 3: Notify the Project Manager of this project or other applicable contacts responsible for this permit.


The Project Manager or applicable staff will make all calls and necessary notifications as indicated below.


If human remains are encountered, treat them with dignity and respect at all times. Cover the remains with a tarp or other materials (not soil or rocks) for temporary protection and to shield them from being photographed. Do not call 911 or speak with the media. Do not take pictures unless directed to do so by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. See Section 5.

Protect Find:

The Project Manager is responsible for taking appropriate steps to protect the discovery site. All work will stop immediately in a surrounding area adequate to provide for the complete security of location, protection, and integrity of the resource. Vehicles, equipment, and unauthorized personnel will not be permitted to traverse the discovery site. Work in the immediate area will not resume until treatment of the discovery has been completed following provisions for treating archaeological/cultural material as set forth in this document.


Direct Construction Elsewhere on-Site:

The Project Manager may direct construction away from cultural resources to work in other areas prior to contacting the concerned parties.


Notify City Historic Preservation Office and Washington State Department of Archaeology (DAHP) of find:

The project manager (or a delegated Cultural Resource professional retained by the project) will contact the involved federal agencies (if any), the City of Tacoma, and the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP). Personnel from the City Historic Preservation Office or Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, in consultation with any cultural resource professionals retained by the project, will ensure that a qualified professional archaeologist examines the area to determine if there is an archaeological find.
  • If it is determined not to be of archaeological, historical, or human remains, work may proceed with no further delay.
  • If it is determined to be an archaeological find, the cultural resource professional will continue with all notifications.
  • If the find may be human remains or funerary objects, City and State personnel will ensure that a qualified physical anthropologist examines the find. If it is determined to be human remains, the procedure described in Section 5 will be followed.

City of Tacoma will Notify Tribes:

The City in coordination with DAHP will notify interested and/or affected tribes of any/all archaeological findings.

Contact Information


Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation Contacts:


 Rob Whitlam, Ph.D.

State Archaeologist


(360) 586-3088

 Guy Tasa, Ph.D.

State Physical Anthropologist


(360) 586-3534


Tribal Contacts:


Brandon Reynon

Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

Puyallup Tribe of Indians

(253 )573-7986


Brad Beach

Tribal Historic Preservation Officer

(360) 528-0680



Jennifer Keating

Assistant Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
(253) 549-5397




City of Tacoma Contacts:


Reuben McKnight

Historic Preservation Officer

City of Tacoma

(253) 591-5220


Susan Johnson (alternate)

Historic Preservation Coordinator

City of Tacoma

(253) 281-7445



Special Procedures for the Discovery of Human Skeletal Material

Any human skeletal remains, regardless of antiquity or ethnic origin, will at all times be treated with dignity and respect. Do not take photographs by any means, unless you are pre-approved to do so.


If the project occurs on federal lands or receives federal funding the provisions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 apply, and the responsible federal agency will follow its provisions. Note that state highways that cross federal lands are on an easement and are not owned by the state.


If the project occurs on non-federal lands, the Project Manager will comply with applicable state and federal laws, and the following procedure:


  • In all cases you must notify a law enforcement agency or Medical Examiner/Coroner’s Office.
  •  In addition to the actions described in Sections 3 and 4, the Project Manager will immediately notify the local law enforcement agency or medical examiner’s office.
  • The Medical Examiner/Coroner (with assistance of law enforcement personnel) will determine if the remains are human, whether the discovery site constitutes a crime scene, and will then notify DAHP.

Contact Information


Pierce County Medical Examiner

Karen Cline-Parhamovich, Chief Medical Examiner

(253) 798-6494 
Tacoma Police Department Non- Emergency
(253) 287-4455


Documentation of Archaeological Materials

Archaeological deposits discovered during construction will be assumed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion D until a formal Determination of Eligibility is made.


Project staff will ensure the proper documentation and field assessment will be made of any discovered cultural resources in cooperation with all parties: the federal agencies (if any), DAHP, affected tribes, and a contracted consultant (if any).


All prehistoric and historic cultural material discovered during project construction will be recorded by a professional archaeologist on a cultural resource site or isolate form using standard and approved techniques. Site overviews, features, and artifacts will be photographed; stratigraphic profiles and soil/sediment descriptions will be prepared for minimal subsurface exposures. Discovery locations will be documented on scaled site plans and site location maps.


Cultural features, horizons and artifacts detected in buried sediments may require further evaluation using hand-dug test units. Units may be dug in controlled fashion to expose features, collect samples from undisturbed contexts, or to interpret complex stratigraphy. A test excavation unit or small trench might also be used to determine if an intact occupation surface is present. Test units will be used only when necessary to gather information on the nature, extent, and integrity of subsurface cultural deposits to evaluate the site’s significance. Excavations will be conducted using state-of-the-art techniques for controlling provenience, and the chronology of ownership, custody and location recorded with precision.


Spatial information, depth of excavation levels, natural and cultural stratigraphy, presence or absence of cultural material, and depth to sterile soil, regolith, or bedrock will be recorded for each probe on a standard form. Test excavation units will be recorded on unit-level forms, which include plan maps for each excavated level, and material type, number, and vertical provenience (depth below surface and stratum association where applicable) for all artifacts recovered from the level. A stratigraphic profile will be drawn for at least one wall of each test excavation unit.


Sediments excavated for purposes of cultural resources investigation will be screened through 1/8-inch mesh, unless soil conditions warrant ¼-inch mesh.


All prehistoric and historic artifacts collected from the surface and from probes and excavation units will be analyzed, catalogued, and temporarily curated. Ultimate disposition of cultural materials will be determined in consultation with the federal agencies (if any), DAHP and the affected tribes.


Within 90 days of concluding fieldwork, a technical report describing any and all monitoring and resultant archaeological excavations will be provided to the Project Manager, who will forward the report for review and delivery to DAHP, the federal agencies (if any), and the affected tribe(s).


If assessment activity exposes human remains (burials, isolated teeth, or bones), the process described in Section 5 will be followed.


Proceeding with Work

Work outside the discovery location may continue while documentation and assessment of the cultural resources proceed. A professional archaeologist must determine the boundaries of the discovery location. In consultation with DAHP and any affected tribes, the Project Manager will determine the appropriate level of documentation and treatment of the resource. If there is a federal nexus, Section 106 consultation and associated federal laws will make the final determinations about treatment and documentation.


Work may continue at the discovery location only after the process outlined in this plan is followed and the Project Manager, DAHP, any affected tribes (and the federal agencies, if any) determine that compliance with state and federal law is complete.