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The History and Archaeology of Yerba Buena Island - Prehistory (continued)

Lifeways of the Native Americans of San Francisco Bay
and Yerba Buena Island


950 - 300 YEARS AGO
Elements of modern Ohlone culture began to emerge about 950 years ago. Change was signaled by a sudden appearance of new artifact types. Large "flower-pot" shaped stone mortars appeared. Rectangular shell beads similar to those which had disappeared from use 1,500 years earlier replaced saddle-shaped beads. At the same time, many bone tool forms of the previous period went out of use. The bow and arrow were first used in the area about 750 years ago. Around 450 years ago, another change occurred in common trade items, from the rectangular shell beads to round clam shell disk beads. At the same time, the number of known inhabited sites around the Bay dropped. This disruption took place soon after Cortez's arrival in upland Mexico and may have been caused by another round of overpopulation and warfare or by European-introduced epidemics spreading from Mexico. The Bay shore people seem to have been rebounding again just as the Spanish came to the Bay Area, forever changing their way of life.

300 YEARS AGO
The first European explorers to enter the Bay in the late 1700s reported seeing hundreds of Native villages along its shore. By this time, Native Americans had been visiting Yerba Buena Island for thousands of years. The island was being used by members of both the Huchiun and the Yelamu tribelets of the Ohlone language group. The two tribelets (who lived on opposite sides of the Bay) were known to intermarry, and they may have used the island as a stop-off and resource gathering spot when crossing the Bay.

map There were fresh-water springs on the island and abundant wood for fires. The rocky beaches supported shellfish and birds, and fish and sea otters would have been plentiful on or near Yerba Buena. The island did lack some resources and was isolated from the mainland, which probably kept it from being a primary living place. It may have been used as a place to escape conflict as the population of the area increased.