Date of Award:

Spring 2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Advisor/Chair:

David Byers

Abstract

The role of bison in the prehistoric subsistence in southern Idaho is not fully understood. Bison remains from Baker Cave, a late Holocene archaeological site dating to cal A.D. 1042-1265, however, provide evidence of pre-contact subsistence strategies in the region. This thesis focuses on the paleoecology of bison and their role in prehistoric subsistence on the Snake River Plain (SRP). The ecological study of bison focuses on the hypothesized trans-Holocene diminution in bison body size in southern Idaho, while a second study focuses on how these animals figured into prehistoric responses to seasonal fat scarcity. Although bison diminution and its ecological determinants are well understood on the Great Plains, the history of diminution west of the Rocky Mountains is less clear. Bison morphometrics from Baker Cave present the opportunity to assess bison diminution on the Snake River Plain. Bison morphometrics from Baker Cave are indistinguishable not only from other late Holocene bison on the Snake River Plain but iv also from late Holocene bison from the Great Plains. Further, the Baker Cave bison are smaller than early Holocene bison from the Great Plains and Snake River Plain. These results suggest morphological similarity between Snake River Plain bison and Great Plains bison through the Holocene, pointing to similar bottom up ecological constraints on body size. Although bison are common components of SRP archaeofaunas, their role in prehistoric subsistence is poorly understood. To shed light on this problem, I hypothesize that the Baker Cave bison assemblage resulted from hunters seeking skeletal fat. I test predictions drawn from this hypothesis with assemblage-level patterns in element representation, impact scar distribution, and fragmentation. These assemblage-level patterns track the skeletal fat utility of elements. These patterns, combined with winter procurement evidenced by fetal remains, support the hypothesis that fat-seeking behavior was a response to winter fat scarcity. A comparison with smaller bison assemblages from southern Idaho suggests that this fat-seeking behavior might have persisted as far back as the middle Holocene, although this requires confirmation from future studies.