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There were entire families -- babies, children, parents and grandparents, as many as 11 in one grave -- who seemed to have died suddenly and had been buried together. Archaeologists say the site includes mass graves dating from 17, when infectious fevers borne by European fur traders were killing off about 90 percent of the Indians living in the Northwest.

There were men and women whose arms and legs were entwined in a ritual embrace of death. It dwarfs any previous Indian archaeological site found in the Pacific Northwest.

Pandemics of smallpox and other white-man fevers probably caused the massive die-offs, archaeologists now say. Langland, Otto Ditlefsen and Alex Stevenson carry remains of Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe members near Port Angeles, Wash. Without intending to do so, the Washington State Department of Transportation, as part of a multimillion-dollar bridge-repair project in this port city on the Olympic Peninsula, opened up what a federal archaeologist describes as the largest prehistoric Indian village and burial ground found in the United States."In my opinion, there is no other archaeological site in the country that has a direct association with so many human remains," said David G. Last week, just 15 months after it started, the state's bridge project sputtered to a costly stop.

The state of Washington and the federal government, officials say, have decided to walk away from the million spent here on what was to have been a dry-dock fabrication site for pontoons for the aging Hood Canal Bridge, a nearby highway bridge in urgent need of repairs.

The bones of their ancestors have been burping up almost daily in the sandy mud of the shoreline construction site."The current construction cannot be sustained without additional destruction of burials and remains of our ancestors," Frances Charles, chairwoman of the tribe, wrote the state Department of Transportation.

The 27-year-old Crosby County resident said his natural curiosity and a multi-generational interest in artifact collection compelled him to dig deeper and unearth bison, horse and human bones.

The site where the bones were buried was deep and wide, measuring about 20 by 8 feet in depth, opened to view because the side of the hill — the location — had eroded over time, Covington said.

When the project began in August 2003, the tribe had been somewhat supportive.

An Indian village was known to have existed on the construction site, located near a spit of sand that creates a deep-water harbor for Port Angeles on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.