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.”