Saturday, September 8, 2007

The First Islanders

Of course the very first inhabitants of San Juan Island were not Europeans. They were not even northwest coastal tribes as we know or remember them today. As the Ice Age retreated a great deal of the world’s water was still locked up in glaciers and the tide was much further out than it is today. Some sites of the earliest human habitat are now buried under the sea.

The Ice Age also wiped out earlier forests that returned slowly by replanting themselves one tree at a time. San Juan Island’s earliest known inhabitants were grassland dwellers who did not appear to subsist on marine resources but on deer and elk. These early inhabitants are first recorded as being here about 9,000 years ago during what is known by archeologists as the Cascade Phase. In 1977 archeologists found a fossilized mastodon rib on the Olympic Peninsula that contained a broken spear point similar to stone artifacts found on San Juan Island.

If the first San Juan Islanders did use marine resources evidence of their shoreline activity may be buried under the tides that only stabilized about 5,000 years ago. Or it could be that early hunting was so good the development of a marine economy was not yet necessary.

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