USD Anthropology Students Excavate Bison Kill Site

Photo from archaeology bison kill site. Students take a break from excavating a bison kill site on a ranch near Ree Heights in Hand County, South Dakota.

VERMILLION, S.D. –  Seven University of South Dakota anthropology students assisted professor Silvana Rosenfeld and archaeologist Michael Fosha of the South Dakota State Historical Society (SDSHS) to excavate a bison kill site on a ranch near Ree Heights in Hand County, South Dakota earlier this fall.

“This was an important experience for the students and for most of them it was their first archaeological excavation,” said Rosenfeld, who used the opportunity to have her students practice many of the methods covered in her Introduction to Archaeology and Human and Animal Osteology classes. “Students assisted with setting up excavation units, identifying and digging stone material and animal bones, screening deposits to find small artifacts, and mapping the finds. One of the students found a complete arrowhead and that made his day.”

While archaeologists are still conducting research on the site, one of the possibilities is that the ancient hunters drove animals uphill to trap in snowdrifts. The site has a dense deposit of bison bones of different ages. Fosha hopes to obtain radiocarbon dates from some of the bones to more accurately tell the age of the site; it is currently estimated to be about 1,000 years old.

Rosenfeld said among other research questions, archaeologists will study the skeletal elements and cut marks on the bones to determine how bison were killed and butchered and to determine the mortality profile (the age of the bison when they were killed) to infer hunters’ selections of prey.  

“Overall, students enjoyed this short archaeological experience that took place in South Dakota just three hours from our campus,” said Rosenfeld. “The students were very professional and methodic in their work and we hope to continue collaborating with the SDSHS to return to the excavation of this site next year with more USD students.”


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 205 undergraduate and 73 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 17:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 17 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Michael Ewald
USD News