Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2001


Published in Great Plains Research 11:1 (Spring 2001). Copyright © 2001 Center for Great Plains Studies.


Between 1995 and 1997, archeological excavations in northwest Calgary, Alberta, uncovered cultural materials from several occupations dating back 8,500 years. Samples of bison bone recovered at the sites were chemically prepared and analyzed for isotopic ratios. Using the resultant carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios, we reconstructed the diet of bison from four different cultural occupations spanning the last 8,500 years. Based on current and established models of bison subsistence behavior, this dietary information was used to infer large-scale environmental changes during this time interval in our study area. The inferred changes in vegetation and climate were compared with paleoenvironmental reconstructions for the study area specifically and with models of post-Pleistocene environmental change for the Northern Great Plains generally. Our results suggest that changes in the diet of bison in southern Alberta coincide with broader environmental changes reported for the Holocene and appear to reflect the adaptability of this species.