Students help trace state’s past with American bison bones
Lee Bement’s lab has an interesting choice of decor — bison skulls — adorning the walls and lining the long lab benches, where more skulls and bones rest for analysis.
Bement, an Oklahoma Archaeological Survey employee, ran an archaeological field school during the summer for OU students and others interested in archaeology to excavate a bison kill site.
“I have been doing this for 20 years, but my research tends to be attracted to buffalo kill sites,” Bement said. “That’s why there’s all this bison bone out there.”
A bison kill site was a spot where ancient people corralled American bison, also known as buffalo, to hunt and kill them.
Students will hopefully return in the summer to look for more artifacts, Bement said.
The particular site Bement is now analyzing in his lab is called Badger Hole in northwestern Oklahoma and contains remains of Folsom people from more than 10,300 years ago.
Some of the earliest Oklahomans were of the Paleo-Indian Clovis Culture around 11,000 years ago, followed by the Folsom people he is now researching, Bement said. This lab is not the oldest site he has excavated but still from one of the early periods of Oklahoma’s history.
“What we are looking at is how early peoples in Oklahoma were hunting animals, how they designed kill sites or hunts, what time of year they were making these kills,” he said.
Anthropology senior Brandon Bleakley, one of the students who helped with the excavation during the summer, experienced camping under the stars, rain, rattlesnakes, scorpions and hands-on work to help dig up artifacts.
The team had high anticipation from the start of the study and was even more excited as it found bones and learned more about them from Bement, Bleakley said.
“The team would sit in awe every day as we excavated, and as we came across an artifact we would just stop and listen to his explanation of what, why and how this artifact could have gotten here,” Bleakley said.
Overall, the team spent five weeks excavating about seven bison, which students are now analyzing in Bement’s lab, including doctoral student Kristen Carlson.
This was not Carlson’s first dig, but it was her first bison kill excavation, and she is now doing her doctoral dissertation on their findings and analysis, she said.
“There are jobs that you just do, and there are jobs that define who you are,” Carlson said. “I was lucky enough to find a job that fits me perfectly in archaeology. … This summer I spent 24 days camping and working outside, all day, every day, uncovering things that no person or animal has seen in over 10,000 years.”
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