Protohistoric Bison Hunting in the Central Plains: A Study of Faunal Remains from the Crandall Site (14RC420)

By Graves, Natalie | Plains Anthropologist, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Protohistoric Bison Hunting in the Central Plains: A Study of Faunal Remains from the Crandall Site (14RC420)


Graves, Natalie, Plains Anthropologist


Diet breadth and group formation models are employed to test hypotheses related to the subsistence practices of the inhabitants of the Crandall site, 14RC420. This small protohistoric habitation is affiliated with the Little River focus of the Great Bend aspect in central Kansas. Based on the faunal remains recovered from 21 storage pits, bison were an abundant, highly-ranked, and specialized resource exploited by the Crandall hunters. These people optimized their hunting strategy by increasing pursuit costs to consistently procure bison through year-round hunting of both resident and migrant herds.

Keywords: Protohistoric Wichita, Little River focus, faunal analysis, bison hunting

This study explores the relationship between the characteristics of a region's resource base and the land-use patterns of the human beings inhabit- ing that region. This research does not assume that human adaptations to the Plains environment op- erated in isolation from other social forces; rather, people adjusted to a myriad of conditions while focusing on a specific resource, namely bison pro- curement. This study concentrates on the animal remains retrieved during excavation of the Crandall site (Figure 1), 14RC420, to demonstrate how the Little River focus hunters who resided at the Crandall site differentially processed and transported their prey depending on demands for food and other byproducts. Very few Little River focus sites have had comprehensive faunal analy- ses completed; therefore, analyzing Crandall site archaeo-fauna from refuse-filled storage pits pro- vides useful information regarding the taxonomic abundance of animals, animal resource procure- ment strategies, and dietary reconstruction. This analysis defines intra-and inter-regional patterns of human use and can be used to assess the physical and social environment of the people associated with the Little River focus, and demonstrates how the exploitation of bison was a specialized subsistence strategy for Crandall site inhabitants.

OPTIMAL FORAGING MODEL AND THE CRANDALL SITE

Wedel (1959:587) described the Great Bend culture as "semi-sedentary people practicing a maize-bean-squash horticulture, along with much hunting, some gathering, and perhaps a little fishing." For the purposes of this study, faunal analysis was applied to diet breadth and group formation models to test hypotheses about the characteristics of the subsistence hunting practices of the people who inhabited the Crandall site. Using optimal foraging models, three hypotheses are applied to predict why bison was a specialized resource at the Crandall site:

1. The inhabitants of the Crandall site had a diet that was highly specialized, because they procured bison, an abundant, high-ranked resource which is evident in how they selected, butchered, and transported their prey.

2. The bison-hunting practices used by the inhabitants of the Crandall site increased their pursuit costs; therefore, their diet breadth was specialized to procure large numbers of bison.

3. In order to optimize their hunting strategy, the inhabitants of the Crandall site exploited both resident and migrant bison populations.

These three optimal foraging hypotheses will be evaluated through the assumptions and constraints contained in the diet breadth and group formation models. Epp and Dyck's (2002) optimal foraging model predicts that the combined use of resident bison herds along with seasonal access to migrant bison populations would be an optimal subsistence strategy. Applying this model to the faunal record will show that these optimal decisions are identifiable in the archaeological record and validate the concept that people will adapt and respond to their physical environment by exploiting a high-quality protein resource, such as bison, on a yearly basis by hunting both migrant and resident bison herds. Additionally, this study will show that during the Protohistoric period, bison hunting remained a highly reliable and productive subsistence strategy for the inhabitants of the Crandall site, and probably facilitated their occupation of the Great Bend Lowlands. …

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