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Between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500 American Indian hunters killed hundreds of bison in a canyon near present Elk City, Oklahoma. During the 1990s the site became a focus of a major research project by the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at the University of Oklahoma. The people who made the kills were part of the Late Archaic (circa 2500 B.C. to A.D.1) groups that survived through hunting and gathering and did not practice horticulture. The site is in a large canyon, one of the deepest of many in the area. The canyon has a number of side branches, some of which are flushed nearly clean of fill. Others are still largely filled with sediments and are visually undetectable on the surface. These deposit remnants contain bone beds and other evidence of bison kills and butchering.

Certain Bison Kill Site

The earliest evidence of bison hunting at the site consisted of a very small bone bed remnant at the base of a sandstone cliff evidently used as a bison jump. This deposit contained the remains of several bison, a butchering tool, and small flakes of stone produced by the resharpening of such tools. Bone from this feature radiocarbon dates to 2,280 years ago. Contrary to popular conception, bison jumps are rare in Oklahoma; the Certain Site location contains only the second bison jump known in the entire southern plains.

As the canyon filled with sediment, the cliff no longer functioned efficiently as a bison jump. The hunters turned to using the canyon's side branches as traps where bison were speared and subsequently butchered. These activities resulted in the formation of dense bone beds in the gully bottoms. Repeated use of some arroyos resulted in the layering of multiple bone beds on top of one another. The kills normally took place in the fall and involved anywhere from two dozen to more than a hundred animals.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert E. Bell, ed., Prehistory of Oklahoma (Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1984). Leland C. Bement and Kent J. Buehler, "Preliminary Results from the Certain Site: A Late Archaic Bison Kill in Western Oklahoma," Plains Anthropologist 39 (May 1994). Kent J. Buehler, "Where's the Cliff?: Late Archaic Bison Kills in the Southern Plains," Plains Anthropologist 42 (February 1997).

Kent J. Buehler

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