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Bison breakthrough

The 5,000-year-old bison skull was found with a spearhead in it.

by Grant Slater
August 29, 2005

Rows and rows of dusty animal skulls adorn the walls of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, but one skull will make its television debut at 8 p.m. on the PBS show “History Detectives.”

OU archaeologist Leland Bement said this 5,000-year-old bison skull and a spearhead embedded in it represent the missing evolutionary link between two species and a wealth of information about an ancient people.

A press release on the Web site describes how the spearhead fractured as it entered the skull. The lack of damage to the back wall of the skull leads the archaeologists to believe the initial strike only knocked the bison senseless, enabling the hunters time to inflict a mortal wound, Bemet said. All the results of the CAT scan indicated a specimen of extreme rarity and importance.


To be sure, the archaeologists sent the skull to a lab for radiocarbon testing. This test showed that the skull dated back about 5,120 years ago. This final piece of evidence solved the mystery and affirmed the importance of this specimen.

“This is pretty much the pinnacle,” said Marjy Duncan, an archaeologist at the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey. “It really tells us a lot.”

The bison skull provides crucial information about the lifestyle of the Calf Creek culture dating from 3,500 to 5,000 years ago. It also links two species of animals through evolution, the bison occidentalis and bison bison species.

“It is the transition between the two species,” Bement said. “It has characteristics that are more aligned to bison occidentalis.”

This species lived from 8,000 to 5,000 years ago and developed into the modern version of the bison. This particular specimen was 1 to 2 years old at the time when it was overtaken and killed by a group of Calf Creek hunters.


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