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A binary approach to the analysis of prehistoric bison distribution and paleoecology in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming




McKetta, Suzanne B., author
LaBelle, Jason M., advisor
Glantz, Mica, committee member
Cotrufo, Francesca, committee member

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Bison exploitation is at the heart of prehistoric hunter-gatherer subsistence on the Great Plains and can reveal robust information regarding patterns of migration, chronology, and variability in paleoclimate. However, despite association with human subsistence practices, bison population and distribution patterns across time and space are unclear. This thesis presents a study of prehistoric bison distribution and population ecology in archaeological and natural contexts in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Two methods are used here to reconstruct the diet and distributions of prehistoric bison populations. The first method involves identifying the known distribution of bison in archaeological and natural settings in the study area through an analysis of archival documentation. Cultural chronologies based on archaeological associations have long been valuable in regional research, but can be imprecise and of insufficient resolution for constructing detailed sequences of prehistoric events. Therefore, to expand knowledge of the regional archaeological distribution of bison, this research utilized a total of 272 archaeological sites containing faunal remains. In addition, 291 calibrated radiocarbon dates were used to compile and analyze bison presence and absence through sum probability distributions and statistical analyses. The second method explores the paleoecology of bison through the use of carbon (13C/12C) and nitrogen (15N/14N) stable isotopes analysis of bone collagen from 35 prehistoric bison specimens. Stable isotopes analysis helps to characterize bison distribution and ecology through reconstruction of bison dietary forage and is compared with paleoclimate data in order to identify trends in bison migration and population patterns. This study adds significant chronological information to the regional record of bison presence in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming and helps to correlate bison distribution patterns with the paleoclimate record.


2014 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references.

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bison distribution
stable isotopes


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