Early Calif. was Native American killing field for animals

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Ancient Native Americans hunted some species of birds and fish almost to extinction in parts of California, according to research that challenges the Utopian myth that native people always lived in harmony with the land.

University of Utah anthropologist Jack Broughton concluded in a paper published this month that California wasn't always a lush Eden before settlers arrived in the 1700s to find an astonishing abundance of wildlife.

Instead, from 2,600 to at least 700 years ago, native people hunted some species to localized extinction and wildlife returned to "fabulous abundances" only after European diseases decimated Indian populations starting in the 1500s.

"Since European discovery, California has been viewed by scholars and scientists, as well as the general public, as a kind of Utopia or a land of milk and honey, a super-rich natural environment," Broughton said.

But his study challenged the "common perception about ancient Native Americans as healthy, happy people living in harmony with the environment. ... Depending on when and where you look back in time, native peoples were either living in harmony with nature or eating their way through a vast array of large-sized, attractive prey species."

Broughton spent seven years studying thousands of bones of birds found in a Native American garbage dump in San Francisco Bay dating back 1,900 years.

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