Bison Freezers and Hunter-Gatherer Mobility: Archaeological Analysis of Cold Lava Tube Caves on Idaho’s Snake River Plain


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Publication Date

January 2003


Archaeological evidence indicates that cold storage of bison meat was consistently practiced on the eastern Snake River Plain over the last 8000 years. Recent excavations in three cold lava tube caves have revealed a distinct artifact assemblage of elk antler tines, broken hands tones, and bison bone in association with frozen sagebrush features. Although the archaeological faunal assemblages from the eastern Snake River Plain refute Julian Steward’s arguments that bison were not an important resource to the region’s prehistoric inhabitants until acquisition of the horse, the evidence suggests that only a few bison were acquired during a single hunting event. Successful acquisition may have required a natural “funnel” or other narrow topographic feature, indicating that bison were not present in large numbers. In fact, bison and cold storage caves were likely a single component in a highly mobile seasonal round that apparently persisted for thousands of years. Understanding how bison and cold caves were possibly integrated in the seasonal round may prove to be very useful in elucidating aboriginal foraging strategies on the eastern Snake River Plain.


Bison, Storage, Caves, Snake River Plain, Hunter-Gatherers

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