GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 54-10
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM-6:30 PM


ROWLAND, Stephen, Department of Geoscience, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-4010, GORDON, Thomas, No institutional affiliation, 5855 South Edmonds Drive, Carson City, NV 89071 and CHAMEROY, Eric, Department of Geoscience, University of Nevada Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-4010

We report the recovery and preliminary analysis of an assemblage of Bison bison bones, along with a smaller number of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) bones, from a recently discovered fossil site, located on private land a few km east of Carson City, Nevada. Several of the bones exhibit distinct cut marks, some of which appear to have been made with a steel tool. The excavation site, which we have named the Gordon Bison Site, lies within the floodplain of Clear Creek, a tributary of the Carson River. There is no previous record of Bison of any age in Carson Valley, so this occurrence extends the historic range of Bison into this region.

We have recovered bones representing at least four individual bison and one pronghorn from multiple excavation pits up to about 50 m apart. A subadult bison from Pit #1 was almost completely articulated, while the others are represented by isolated bone elements. All of the bones were found within approximately 60 cm of the ground surface.

The Pit #1 bison was lying in a peculiar orientation, with its ventral side down. Its left foreleg projected forward from the shoulder, and its right foreleg projected downward into the floodplain sediment. Hundreds of blow fly puparia were scattered around the ribcage. We infer that this animal was skinned and butchered, but not dismembered. When skinning a bison, Native Americans would typically orient the animal on its stomach and slit the skin down the midline of the back, in part to recover the highly desirable hump meat. The tail was often removed with the skin, which explains the absence of caudal vertebrae in this specimen. The abundant blow fly puparia record the exposure of the skinned, butchered carcass to flies.

Radiocarbon dating indicates two possible age windows for these fossils: (1) around the year 1700, or (2) sometime during the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. The inferred use of steel tools eliminates the earlier age possibility. Therefore, this site probably dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century, by which time European Americans had introduced steel tools into Carson Valley.