Badger Hole (USA): bison kill site excavation

Paighten Harkins / Oklahoma University

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This summer, a team of OU archeologists finished excavating a bison kill site that hadn’t been touched by humans in thousands of years.

The site was last visited by humans in the Folsom Age — which was more than 10,000 years ago, said K.C. Carlson, field director of the excavation.

The team found the skeletal remains of more than a dozen bison, some Folsom points — weapons used to kill bison — and some of the butchering tools Paleoindians used to cut up the animals, OU archeologist Leland Bement said.

“The last people to see [the bones] were the ones butchering the bison,” Carlson said.

The Badger Hole kill site excavation was a continuation of the OU Archeological Survey’s project to excavate a number of bison kill sites along the Beaver River in Northwest Oklahoma, Carlson said.

This was the second year the team had been excavating the site, so they knew what to expect when they were digging around in the sticky red dirt, but that didn’t take away from the excitement of finding something, she said.

“[Finding remains] is a cool feeling,” she said. “It’s always neat to see butcher marks because that’s the human element of the kills.”

The exact number of remains and artifacts that were found is undetermined at this time because the team is still analyzing its findings, Bement said.

In June the team also was joined by a group of students from the nearby town of Woodward, Okla., who were participating in the Time Team America field school, Bement said.

The students were led through the bone beds in the kill site and made their own spear points, according to the Time Team America website.

As part of the field school, OU’s team butchered a bison using the primitive, stone tools the Paleoindians would have used, Carlson said.

Having that hands-on experience helped Carlson understand more of what she was seeing when she was examining butcher marks.

“[Butchering the bison] was a really neat experience because we spend so much time in the lab looking at these butcher marks,” she said. "To really make sense of those was really cool.”

Members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who donated the bison to the team helped butcher the bison, Carlson said.

The sites the team have excavated date back to right after the extinction of the mammoth at the end of the last ice age, Bement said they are important because they highlight the development of the Paleoindians’ hunting strategies, which stuck with them for the next 10,000 years.

“Bison behave a lot differently than mammoths do. [Paleoindians] had to hone their style of hunting,” Bement said.

The Paleoindians developed a hunting strategy where they chased a herd of bison into a dead end gully. From there, the Paleoindians would kill and butcher the bison, Bement said.

The team is finished with excavating the Badger Hole site for now, but they will continue to monitor the area for any new discoveries that are made, Carlson said.