Anthropology, Department of



Chris Widga

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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 14 (1997-1999). Copyright © Chris Widga; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


The relation of prehistoric human groups to bison populations in the Central Plains has long been the subject of both speculation and debate. Recent research has shown that bison are relatively sensitive to changing environmental conditions (Bamforth, 1988; Bozell, 1995; Speth and Pany, 1978; Emerson, 1990). This sensitivity is visible in physiological and behavioral adaptations used by bison to deal with change. Ukewise, evidence for these adaptations is present in faunal assemblages from Central Plains archaeological sites. In order to determine the nature of these adaptive charaderistics, a model must be developed which goes beyond traditional presence/absence tabulations of faunal taxa.

With the goal of understanding how human groups dealt with inconsistent bison resources between AD I and AD 1500, a model will be developed that utilizes research from several different fields. This paper is a synthesis of research undertaken in grassland and cultural ecology, archaeology, paleoclimatology and nutrition. Its purpose is to create a diachronic pidure of bison availability and its relevance to subsistence. It will then examine cultural implications for prehistoric human populations on the Central Plains. This paper will present a general discussion of human adaptation to dietary stresses. Then, it will explain grassland and bison ecological systems, respectively. These data will then be used to develop a model of bison use, which will be evaluated through the analysis of Central Plains archaeological

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