Masters Thesis

The Owl Cave mass kill: examining the evidence for an early Holocene communal bison drive in southeastern Idaho using GIS

Although the evidence suggests that bison were consistently taken by aboriginal hunters on the eastern Snake River Plain throughout the Holocene, quantitative faunal analyses indicate that bison were taken in modest numbers. However, Owl Cave is an exception to this pattern. Dated at approximately 8,000 RCYBP, the bison bone bed suggests a successful communal drive making Owl Cave one of the earliest mass bison kills in North America utilizing this strategy. An examination of the evidence offered by the original researchers of a mass kill at Owl Cave, in addition to valuable ethnographic and archaeological evidence from the eastern Snake River Plain and the Great Plains, is conducted. New avenues of inquiry, including tools available in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), are used to assess the validity of these original claims. Using tools available in GIS, least-cost pathways are calculated to identify potential natural drive lanes and viewshed analyses are conducted to simulate the bison’s point of view while being driven. Paleoenvironmental conditions during the early Holocene (including the presence of a pluvial lake complex), unique topographic features, and high bison population densities, likely prompted aboriginal hunters to communally hunt. The implication of an early mass kill on the eastern Snake River Plain is significant; offering insights into aboriginal subsistence strategies, bison population densities, and paleoenvironmental conditions during early Holocene.

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