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Our Original Locavores
May 2008 | by Maryruth Cox

 

If you walk on the trails in Torrey Pines Extension, you may notice signs of prehistoric man. The dark earth embedded with bits of shell might have been his garbage heap (midden); he might have used the broken rocks scattered on the mesa for hand tools to smash those shells, or to grind seeds for his pinole.

There are 34 recorded archeological sites in the 182 acres of the extension (Archeological Survey of the Extension Area of Torrey Pines State Reserve, by Marla Mealey, 2002). One of these sites has a splendid view of the ocean and Torrey Pines State Reserve, as well as a wild-onion patch nearby and heaps of hand-chopper-sized broken rocks. Here the Kumuyaay camped hundreds of years ago (approx. 700 A.D. to the 1500s) and their predecessors thousands of years ago (5000 B.C. to 400 A.D.). Although none of the sites in the extension has been dated, there is a large village site southeast of the extension, which has yielded dates ranging from 5155 B.C. to 370 A.D.

The prehistoric people who lived in the extension were self-sufficient and lived off the land. They were the original ‘locavores'; there were no stores around the corner!

On a warm spring day the ladies might have been found sitting in the sunshine weaving net bags from yucca or agave thread (no plastic bags available) to use at the beach when they gathered the small Donax clams for supper. Perhaps some children chased lizards to roast in the campfire, as aboriginal five-year-olds did in Australia .

The Indians built stone hearths for cooking. The side of the rocks facing the fire turned red. Today when the archeologist finds these reddened rocks (called FAR, fire-affected rocks) he can reconstruct the hearth.

But where did the people go on a wild January night when wind tossed the trees and cold rain sluiced down their bare backs? Did they contrive shelters with brush from chamise and lemonade berry? Did they pile pine needles to make a rough bed? Did they have rabbit-skin blankets for the nursing mother to huddle in with her baby? We can infer something about their lives from the memories of the Kumuyaay, such as Delfina Cuevo (1900-1972). 

When fading stars signalled the dawn and morning sun dried the trees, the people scurried for food. Teenagers hiked to the beach with net bags and sticks to dig for clams and caught fish by hand in the shallows of the lagoon. Men set fiber traps in the rabbit runs. In spring the women searched for edible plants such as wild onion and stalks of Dudleya, which they chewed raw. In summer they dug blue dick bulbs to roast, found seeds of goosefoot to grind for pinole, and picked fruits of the prickly pear, lemonade berry, and manzanita to eat fresh.

For thousands of years the Indians used the land in the T.P. Extension for their sustenance and shelter. From the fragmentary evidence of rock tools, fire-affected rocks, and seeds or shells left at their sites, we can imagine their life. But many questions remain: why did they camp on the hill when most of their food was found at the beach or in the lagoon? Where did they get fresh water? Did they choose the hills, a natural lookout, because they feared enemies?

The Extension lands, a natural preserve, are a living museum of ancient man. There we can wander and ponder their lives.

 

   
 

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