Olsen-Chubbuck Bison Kill Site
The Olsen-Chubbuck Bison kill site is located 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Kit Carson, Colorado. The Paleo-Indian site dates back to an estimated 8000-6500 B.C. and provides evidence for bison hunting, using a game drive system, long before the use of the bow and arrow or horses. The site was named Olsen-Chubbuck after the amateur archaeologists who discovered the bone bed, Sigurd Olsen and Gerald Chubbuck. The Olsen-Chubbuck site was excavated 1958 and 1960 by Joe Ben Wheat, an anthropologist employed through the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. The site contains a bone-bed of almost 200 bison that were killed and processed by Paleo-Indian hunters.
Following the extinction of megafauna such as mammoth in the late Pleistocene, Bison became the most important game for native Paleo-Indians for food and many other uses, including use of hides for clothing and shelter. Bison, relying on their sense of smell, traveled in search of food in herds of 50 to 300. Their poor eyesight allowed hunters to use a game drive system, in which they would get close to the herd, scare them and cause them to stampede into bison jumps or arroyo traps.
The Olsen-Chubbuck was first discovered by Gerald Chubbuck, a young archaeologist, in 1957 when he came across several Scottsbluff projectile points and five separate piles of bones at the northernmost area of the Arkansas River valley. He notified the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History of his discovery and performed an initial excavation.
Located in a dry gulch, or arroyo, the excavation dig was in an irregularly shaped area up to 12 feet (3.7 m) wide, 200 feet (61 m) long and 7 feet (2.1 m) deep. Nearly 200 Bison occidentalis were found in a section 170 feet (52 m) long.
- Chubbuck and Olsen
With Sigurd Olsen, another amateur archaeologist, Chubbuck excavated the bones of about 50 bison in 1/3rd of the site in 1957.
- Joe Ben Wheat, University of Colorado Museum
By the spring of 1958, the University of Colorado Museum was granted permission to excavate by the owner of the land, Paul Forward, and Chubbuck and Olsen. The excavations were led by Joe Ben Wheat between 1958 and 1960. Wheat and his team uncovered 143 more skeletal remains. The total number of bison found included 16 calves, 27 immature bulls, 38 immature cows, 46 adult bulls, and 63 adult cows. Wheat's careful and detailed descriptions of the arroyo drive, kill site, butchering process, and consumption estimates set a standard for excavation of Paleo-Indian sites and won national attention.
Theory about the stampede
From the positioning of the 190 Bison occidentalis skeleton bones, it was found that they were stampeded by the hunters into the arroyo. The animals that plunged first were killed from the fall and their remains were contorted, with twisted spines, and covered by following bison from the stampede. The bison were theorized to have run in a north-south direction with the hunters upwind of the southerly wind. The presence of 16 nearly newborn calves means the kill was likely in late May or early July. The arroyo drive to cause the mass killing would have required significant "cooperative planning."
The site contained 3 distinct layers of bison remains: 1) the bottom layer held skeletons of 13 untouched bison, 2) the middle contained nearly complete, or only partially butchered, skeletal remains and 3) the top layer had butchered single bones and articulated bison skeletal segments. The top layer illustrated that as the Paleo-Indians methodically removed the meat from the bones they placed them in separate piles or units that contained the skeletal remains from a number of animals. The butchering process was similar, but much more methodical, to that of modern Plains Indians. Positioning the Bison occidentalis bones for butchering would have required a great deal of manual effort. The Olsen-Chubbuck hunters ate the tongues of the bison as they worked, given the isolated occurrences of tongue bone in the piles. It would have likely taken 1/2 a day for 100 people to butcher the bison.
The amount of edible meat for each bison is: 50 pounds for a young calf, 165 for an immature male, 110 pounds for an immature female, 550 pounds for an adult male, and 400 for an adult female. Based on the number of skeletal remains, it is estimated that the hunters obtained 56,640 pounds of meat, and a significant amount of edible mass in the form of fat and internal organs from the bison. Knowing that fresh meat is only good for about a month and assuming that 1/3 of the meat was dried, the archaeologists estimated that the band would need to have about 150 adults and children to consume the remaining 2/3 of fresh meat from this kill in that time.
Meat was likely dried for preservation, with 20 pounds of dried meat yielded from 100 pounds of fresh meat. It is thought Paleo-Indians may have preserved butchered neck meat into pemmican, dried meat pounded into a powder, like later Plains Indians who found bison neck meat tough to eat.
Other artifacts were also found at the Olsen-Chubbuck kill site, including:
- 1 bifacial flaked knife and 1 Alibates knife
- 1 side-scraper and 3 end-scrapers
- 2 utilized flakes and 3 resharpening flakes
- 1 hammer/anvil stone
- 3 small stones, 1 limonite pebble, and 4 cut, notched or polished bones.
The Olsen-Chubbock site is a Cody complex site, a Plano culture that existed 9,000 to 7,000 years ago in the Plains. Many of the artifacts were similar to the set of tools used by the Clovis culture and Folsom tradition, such as knives, stone scrapers and bone ornaments and needles. The Scottsbluff and Eden points, dated about 6,500 B.C. are of the Cody culture.
- Wheat, J.B. (1967). "A Paleo-Indian bison kill". Scientific American 216 (1): 44–53.
- Wheat, J.B. (1972). "The Olsen-Chubbuck site: a paleo-Indian bison kill". Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology 26.
- Cassells, E. Steve. (1997). The Archaeology of Colorado, Revised Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books. pp. 83-84, 91. ISBN 1-55566-193-9.
- Cassells, E. Steve. (1997). The Archaeology of Colorado, Revised Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books. p. 195. ISBN 1-55566-193-9.
- First View points. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
- Cassells, E. Steve. (1997). The Archaeology of Colorado, Revised Edition. Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books. p. 82. ISBN 1-55566-193-9.