Bison ecology and pre-contact human land use at the Promontory Caves

Author(s): Jessica Metcalfe; Vandy Bowyer

Year: 2017


Promontory people were proficient bison hunters with a sophisticated understanding of bison ecology. In contrast, modern researchers know relatively little about pre-contact bison ecology in the Great Basin. We combine botanical analysis of dung and isotopic analysis of various substrates (dung, hair, hide, bone) to reconstruct ancient landscapes and bison behaviour during the Promontory occupation. Carbon isotope compositions indicate that a C3-dominated environment existed at the Promontory Caves during the Late Prehistoric human occupation, and botanical analysis provides evidence for the specific plant taxa present. Most bison procured by Promontory people consumed C3 diets. However, one sample of moccasin leather had an anomalously high δ13C value, indicating significant C4/CAM plant consumption. Select specimens from Franktown Cave (Colorado) and Ross Rockshelter (Wyoming) also had unusually high δ13C, suggesting the possibility that occasional bison were procured on long-distance scouting expeditions or other forays to the south and east. We use isotopic and botanical evidence to evaluate this hypothesis and alternatives such as (1) trade, (2) occasional migration of bison from distant locations, and (3) atypical consumption of locally-available C4/CAM plants, perhaps during times of stress. We also discuss the implications of our data for hunting and land use among proto-Apachean groups.

Cite this Record

Bison ecology and pre-contact human land use at the Promontory Caves. Jessica Metcalfe, Vandy Bowyer. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431872)


Apachean Bison isotope

Geographic Keywords
North America - Great Basin

Spatial Coverage

min long: -122.761; min lat: 29.917 ; max long: -109.27; max lat: 42.553 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15416