Think ancient history is, well, ancient history? What about if it’s in your own backyard?More than 200 students, archeologists and history enthusiasts turned out for a lecture at the Cabrillo Horticulture Center on Thursday, Oct. 27. The riveted audience members furiously scribbled notes as a panel of archeologists and experts discussed historical sites on the Central Coast. Dusty McKenzie, an archaeology and anthropology instructor at Cabrillo, was inspired to organize the event after getting a sense of what he says is a public misunderstanding of California’s native residents at a recent Santa Cruz City Council meeting. The community’s response was in reaction to ancient remains found of a young Ohlone girl, the local Native American tribe, at a proposed building site.
The lecturers gave presentations on a range of civilizations and excavation sites in and around Santa Cruz County. Terry Jones, a professor of anthropology at Cal Poly University, started off the discussion with his presentation of four dig sites, which are some of the oldest anywhere in California. One of the sites is located right in Scotts Valley and dates back to 12,000 B.C.
Gary Breschini, an archaeological consultant, followed up Jones’ presentation with a discussion of excavation sites in South Monterey Bay. Thanks to his team’s extensive radiocarbon dating and bone analysis, Breschini was able to prove ancient people’s dependence on the ocean as their main food source.
Diane Gifford-Gonzales moved the subject matter forward a few thousand years with her presentation on the indigenous residents of the Quiroste Valley, near Ano Nuevo State Reserve, at the time of Spanish contact in the mid-1700s. These pre-colonial residents were highly developed, as evidenced by their relatively extravagant structures and complex cooking methods.
Mark Hylkema, the Santa Cruz District Archeologist for California State Parks, followed up with a presentation that largely focused on the evolution of language and cultural traditions through the time of Mexican-American War. A study of languages in the area revealed that there were still indigenous people familiar with their ancient languages when they made contact with American settlers in the 1860s.
Valantine Lopez, the Amah Mutsun Tribal spokesperson, closed the lecture series by highlighting the often-strained relationship between archeologists and Native American tribes. According to Lopez, while archeologists want to excavate and study remains and artifacts, tribal concerns center largely on seeing their ancestors reburied so that they may continue to rest in peace.
For information about future events, visit the Santa Cruz Archaeological Society’s website at santacruzarchsociety.org.