Thousands of years ago, the areas surrounding what is now San Francisco and Monterey Bay had one of the largest population densities in North America. The Ohlone, a collection of 50 distinct Native American tribes, each with their own territories and dialects, called the land home.

How did they coexist together, and what were their lives like?

Mark Hylkema has spent a lot of time with such questions. As an archaeologist for 40 years, Hylkema has studied historic sites and talked with descendants of native peoples. He’s learned a lot about the symbiosis that tribes had with each other and the land. 

“These sites are windows that are becoming opaque,” Hylkema said. “They’re hard to see right now, and they are also disappearing, so the challenge to recover the information has been pretty profound.”

In his upcoming lecture “Native American Lifeways: Half Moon Bay Area and San Francisco Peninsula,” Hylkema will reflect on new topics regarding the Ohlone and their lives prior to colonial expansion through present day. It’s the first-ever collaboration between the Half Moon Bay History Association and the Odd Fellows Society, and the free event will start at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at Odd Fellows Hall in Half Moon Bay. 

Hylkema, a registered professional archaeologist, is the Santa Cruz District archaeologist and tribal liaison for California State Parks. He’s worked on projects across the state and done research for a variety of universities, including Santa Clara University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He’s worked with the Half Moon Bay History Association once before when it presented “Perils of a Leeward Shore: Franklin Point Historic Shipwreck Cemetery Año Nuevo State Park” in December 2019. 

Recent years have seen a heightened awareness of the Ohlone culture in California. Last year marked the 250th anniversary of the Gaspar de Portolá expedition and the commemoration of 10,000 years of Ohlone settlement in San Mateo County. While he’s done extensive research in this field, he recognizes he does not speak on the behalf of the Native Americans and wants to be respectful of their history. Hylkema’s research, which includes studying pollen to the DNA in salmon bones, is more than just finding relicts. It’s a way to piece together the puzzles of an ancient culture. 

“If you want to understand habitats,” he said, “changing landscapes, nature, plants and the symbiosis between humans and the land, you look at archaeology for that.”

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