Jawbone found on Coupeville beach

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

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

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

“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 Coroner’s Office shortly after their discovery.

Officials with the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation confirmed that a specialist would come to Coupeville to examine the remains and determine whether they are Native American in origin.

The remains were found March 15, 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. Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim 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 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.