Hoax or History: A Bison Skull with Embedded Calf Creek Projectile Point

By Bement, Leland C.; Lundelius, Ernest L., Jr. et al. | Plains Anthropologist, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Hoax or History: A Bison Skull with Embedded Calf Creek Projectile Point


Bement, Leland C., Lundelius, Ernest L., Jr., Ketcham, Richard A., Plains Anthropologist


The discovery of a bison skull with protruding sections of a Calf Creek projectile point on a sand bar along the Arkansas River near Tulsa, Oklahoma, is investigated using the techniques of high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT), biometrics, and radiocarbon assay to determine its authenticity. This high-tech approach permits evaluation of the find without the extraction of the point. Converging lines of evidence suggest the association is authentic. This artifact contributes valuable knowledge to our understanding of middle Holocene hunters, including dispelling the idea that these objects were only employed as knives.

Keywords: Calf Creek culture, Southern Plains, Mid-Holocene

When images of a bison skull with protruding projectile point first appeared on the Internet, there was widespread skepticism about the authenticity of such a find. The photographs showed what looked to be the two long ears of a Calf Creek projectile point protruding from the horn/skull intersection. This style of projectile point is indicative of the Calf Creek culture that inhabited the Southern Plains around 5,000 years ago. The story accompanying the pictures also seemed incredulous: an artifact collector walking the sand bars of the Arkansas River outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, discovered the skull embedded in sand. The collector showed his find to fellow hunters along the river, who corroborated his story. The skull first appeared for public viewing at an artifact collectors show, and it is after this that the first photos appeared on the Internet. Images made their way to archaeologists at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, University of Oklahoma. Archaeologists Larry Neal and Leland Bernent made arrangements to meet the collector and inspect the find.

Lanky, laid-back, and soft spoken Kirn Holt brought his incredible find to the Survey. Carried in a gym bag, the skull was wrapped in a towel. Unwrapped, the object was indeed a bison skull fragment with protruding projectile point (Figure 1). Initial inspection failed to detect any glue or other adhesive material around the point-telltale signs of a forgery. Instead, the bone margins conformed tightly to the contour of the point. The point itself was weathered white (heavily patinated), indicating it had been exposed to the elements for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The stem and base were missing. All that could be seen were the two ears or tangs formed by deep basal notching.

ANALYSIS

The find appeared authentic, but additional study was needed to confirm this. To prove it was not a hoax required detailed high-resolution Xray computed tomography (CT) scanning of the skull, craniometric study of the skull to determine its species or subspecies, and radiocarbon dating of the skull to match its age with the 5,000 yearold projectile point style.

A team of specialists consisting of Dr. Ernest Lundelius, paleontologist from the University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Richard Ketcham, director of the High-resolution X-ray CT Facility, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, brought special perspectives to the study. Preparation of a bone sample for radiocarbon analysis was performed by Dr. Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research Laboratories, Inc.

CT ANALYSIS

The key to assessing the authenticity of the find lay in the ability to inspect the damage caused by the projectile point to the skull and, vice versa, the damage the skull caused to the point. X-ray CT scans provide a non-destructive, non-invasive technique to image the point and skull. The entire skull was scanned at 1 mm intervals. A second scan at 0.25 mm intervals was subsequently performed on the area about the projectile point. These scans were then used to create three-dimensional images of the skull which could be sliced to expose any portion of the skull or point1. The initial results provided detailed, high resolution images of the skull, the projectile point, and the damage to both. …

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