Bison Bone Hunters Posted on November 7th, 2014 by

by Zach Van Orsdel, ’15

During the weekend of September 13th and 14th Senior Geology major Dominic Delmont in conjunction with Professor Julie Bartley led a team in search of bison bones in the Des Moines River near Jackson Minnesota.   The goal was to find as many bison bones as they could, and find bison bones they did. By the end of the weekend the team had brought the total number of collected bison bones to 1000.

Kate and Brooke Rosenberg have been finding bison bones in their backyard for a couple years and decided that they wanted to know more about the bison bones they had discovered. They contacted Professor Bartley, which started this whole project. Based on the observations that Gustavus students made last year on previously collected bones, it appeared as though some of the bones had tool markings on them. These marks suggested that humans killed the bison and the bones could provide us with important anthropological information. Several of the bones were sent off to be dated and came back with ages of 1000 to 200 years old, a time which we know little about the activities of humans in this area. The age of the bones combined with the evidence of human alteration were the driving force behind this expedition.

Dominics bison bones 2

Dominic hypothesized that the bison bones being found were the remnants of a mass hunting event, but in order to test that idea a large number of bison bones needed to be collected. In order to collect those bones Dominic assembled a team including Senior Geology majors Mike Dickens and Zach Van Orsdel, Junior Biology major Reina Nielsen, Sophomore Geology major Russ Krueger, and Sophomore Mikaela Algren. After assembling the team, Dominic gathered a fleet of kayaks with the help of locals and Kate and Brooke. The team spent two days out on the river with Kate and Brooke collecting bison bones while Julie, who was braving a badly sprained ankle, managed the team from the van used as a mobile base.

Bison 1

By the end of the weekend everyone was a little wet, Mike especially so after tipping his kayak mere feet from the extraction point. The team then carried the hundreds of bison bones out of the river channel and packed them up for transportation back to Gustavus where Dominic could study them. With nearly a thousand bones to go through Dominic will be busy working on finding an answer to sate Kate and Brooke’s curiosity about how the bison bones got into their backyard.

Bison 2


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