A reconstructed Kumeyaay olla (Photo: N. Taylor)

As you walk the trails of the reserve, remember that we are in the footsteps of those before us who valued the lagoon for its abundance of coastal resources.

Native American tribes hunted and gathered along the shores of the estuary for at least 8,500 years. Long before trails were named and interpretive signage was placed in San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, this place was home to the Kumeyaay (also termed Diegueno and Ipai-Tipai), the last Native Americans to inhabit the lagoon. 

The Kumeyaay traveled in extended family groups along the coast, mountains, and deserts of what is now called Southern California and Baja Mexico. They claimed prescribed territories, but rarely owned resources.

Portolá’s 1769 expedition from San Diego to Monterey documented a series of Native American coastal villages in the San Diego area, typically situated along the region’s major drainages. Assimilation and the introduction of Old World diseases greatly disrupted and reduced Native American populations, and by the early 1800s traditional coastal villages were largely abandoned. As a result, we know very little about traditional coastal life, except what can be gleaned from mission records and excavations, and from descendants of the Kumeyaay who live in the region.

The Kumeyaay relied on the lagoon’s biodiversity to sustain them. They hunted deer and rabbit, and caught fish and clams. Their relationship with plants and animals was intimately tied to food, shelter, dyes, medicine, and clothing applications. 

More than 50 prehistoric sites have been recorded in this area. A number of these sites are major shell midden areas, scattered remains of seafood shells that indicate habitation. Several sites have been destroyed or severely impacted by modern development. Only a few of these sites lie immediately adjacent to the edge of the lagoon.

Think about your connection to this land and how we all rely on nature. For more information on the archaeology of this lagoon, read the full report.

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy

Santa Carina Trail shows evidence of Native American middens.

Ethnobotany at San Elijo Lagoon 
Information about how Native Americans used indiginous plants in the lagoon (PDF).

The Kumeyaay People of San Elijo Lagoon 
This Teacher's Guide meets History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (grades 3-5), which focus on local American Indian nations, how the physical environment affected their lives, and their use of natural resources (PDF).

The Archaeology Around San Elijo Lagoon
Full Report by Brian F. Byrd