Layer 17 is a dense bison bone bed. These occur from between 200 and 250 centimeters in depth, within the Wasden Site. These remains have been reported to be the results of two separate drive occurrences. As has already been noted above, the site itself, has 7757 large faunal remains recovered, numbered, and in the master Wasden database. The database includes faunal remains identified to be camel, mammoth, bison, and various carnivore species, bear, coyote as well as badger. From this larger group those remains from layer 17 represent 6113 of the total. Most of the faunal remains from the entire site are from layer 17. Layer 17 is overwhelmingly bison remains. Of the 6113 remains only 29 are identified as being other than bison, 14 called carnivore, 9 called canine, 2 coyote, 1 badger, 1 marmot, 1 dog, and 1 bird. This leaves 6084 faunal bison remains in a layer that is between 20 and 50 centimeters thick, an extraordinary amount of material in a small space. Of these 1882 are identified as being in grid units E4D and E4E, and 1827 in the four grid units E1B, E1C, E2Cand E3C, giving a total of 3709 faunal remains in six grid units. These six units, E4D and E4E, and E1B, E1C, E2C, and E3C, are indicative of the bone piling mentioned by Butler (1986:129).
Wasden is a site unlike any in the archaeological literature. It represents quite clearly the contingent nature of the archaeological record. The Wasden site represents what appears to be a natural animal trap. The animals needed little or no inducement to enter the cave. The hunters at Wasden drove the bison into Owl Cave in two separate events. These events occurred closely in time, as no visible separation between the two events is present in the site stratigraphy. The two separate drives were reported by Butler (1986:129) to represent :
[T]wo different kills were involved, one just before the onset of the calving season and one just after. . .a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavity and then systematically butchered.
Butler states (1986:129, citing a 1978 personal communication with George Frison) that this is similar to a pattern found in the northwestern plains in sites of similar age, based on material remains. This is similar to the pattern found by Speth (1983:163), which indicates that female bison would have been preferred during the early winter, due to fat concentrations being higher in females during the early winter than that of males, with the reciprocal being true in the early summer. The two different kills are evidenced by the inclusion of fetal bone material, indicating a late winter to early spring (Miller 1989:383), and a late spring or early summer, evidenced by the inclusion of material deemed to be juvenile. The evidence of the separation is in the presence of fetal and juvenile bison in the recovered remains. Each drive has the remains of roughly thirty bison. Parts of the bison were removed and taken away from the site, either because of cultural preference or because they represent discrete food packages, that are easy to take to residential site.
|Figure 30. Provenience of fetal bones recovered from the Wasden site.|
The separation of the two drives is in where fetal material is recovered. The activity group probably drove the bison in this layer into cave, given the numbers of bison recovered from the layer. They butchered the bison, and utilized the bison over a few months in the case of the winter kill, and the fact that some of the bone seems to have been utilized for marrow extraction. Some part of the bison was removed from the site.
The Wasden site is the convergence of contingent factors. It is a natural animal trap, allowing Paleoindian groups to gather a large amount of animal flesh in a short period of time. In the site the butchering practices seem to reflect the fact that with a large amount of available food the most desirable pieces would be removed and consumed first, and possibly at all. Some of the faunal material was broken indicative of marrow extraction. Due to the quickly perishable nature of marrow it may be that these were broken at the time of butcher and the marrow consumed. Metacarpals, metatarsals, and phalanges were removed and placed into the waste piles. Each of the tests that were run, as well as observations of the data itself yield, more of the data to build the narrative of what happened at the Wasden site over a short period of time around 8000 years ago.
Butler (1986:129) noted that the faunal remains in the bison bone bed at the Wasden site seem to have been piled. The rational explanation seems to be that these remains were separated and piled by the people who were butchering the bison in the cave. Therefore these piles seem to represent primary context for human behavior. As people were butchering an excess of meat, the Wasden site represents the remains of over 70 butchered bison (Butler 1986), they were selecting those parts that were deemed culturally acceptable, or those that returned the greatest investment for time invested in transport given the variables of distance, meat utility, and weight. These parts were processed and some, such as the ribs, which were recovered in much lower numbers than the other elements, were removed from the site. There were only 60 rib fragments recovered in the over 6000 skeletal fragments recovered at the site. The ribs seem to have been removed from the site as a preferred food item. There is an analogous reference in the archaeological literature that could explain the lack of ribs recovered from the Wasden site. Both Binford (1978) and Friesen (2001) use indices to calculate which portions of an animal will be selected for the purpose of drying meat, based on proportion of meat to marrow and fat. The Meat Drying Index (Friesen 2001), a simplification of the Drying Utility Index (Binford 1978), for caribou usage among the Nunamiut, finds that ribs were ideal for the purpose of dried meat given a normed score of 100 in a scale of 100 (Friesen 2001:321, Figure 2). Speth (1983) does not calculate a Drying Index for Bison, but uses Modified General Utility Index to determine the use of other elements within the Garnsey Site in New Mexico. The ribs do not score well in the Modified General Utility Index, based probably on the fact that they do score well in the Meat Utility Index, which calculates the amount of useful flesh to be harvested from particular skeletal elements. Speth (1983:86 Fig. 28) does, however, show that only 18.7% of the ribs given a minimum number of individuals of 35, were recovered from the Garnsey site. At Wasden only 3% given a minimum number of individuals of 70, were recovered from the site.
|Figure 31. Provenience of ribs recovered from the Wasden site.|
Using the indices as a measure of possible use for the Wasden material, it
becomes apparent that the Wasden material is follows the general trends that
the indices seem to bear out. Metacarpals, Metatarsals, and phalanges, occur
in large numbers in the large bone piles that may have been used as waste piles
during the butchering process. These elements score extremely low in the indices,
and given the large numbers of bison harvested by the activity group at Wasden,
it appears that these would have been discarded with minimal use accounting
for the high recovery rate.
The discard pattern of the bison remains represent the contingent choices of an over abundance of meat. Those pieces that have less value were discarded. Fetal remains were basically unused and discarded immediately. Speth (1983:114-115) suggests that perhaps due to low levels of subcutaneous, intermuscular, intramuscular, and marrow fat, immature bison were not utilized by processing groups. Those bones outside of the large piles received additional modification, only 32.6% are complete. These bones were broken apart either for marrow extraction or to be used for the creation of bone tools. The site itself represents the cultural patterning of individuals in the archaeological record.
An alternate explanation that could be advanced is that of Wasden as the site of processing, not that of a bison drive. In Bunn and Kroll (1986:434 citing Lartet and Christy 1865-75, and popularized by Perkins and Daly 1968 as the "schlepp effect") the "less nutritional and heavier axial skeletal elements tend to be left at the site of death or butcher and the more nutritious and lighter elements are moved to consumption and processing sites. The "schlepp effect" is used to distinguish between camp sites and kill or butchery sites (Bunn and Kroll 1986:434). At Wasden the axial skeletal elements are under represented, in ribs and skull elements, and perhaps in vertebrae. Which indicates that at Wasden the site was used as for processing of large numbers of bison, but not as a drive site for the bison themselves. This assumes that parts of an estimated seventy bison were moved into the cave at Wasden for processing away from the primary kill site. This does seem unlikely.
Taphonomic processes have influenced the material remains at the Wasden site to an unknown degree. Decay and fluvial sorting seem not to have played a major role at the Wasden site. The site seems to have had excellent preservation of the accumulated faunal remains. Carnivore damage is found in the material remains, but no qualification nor quantification of the extent of damage has been made. However, based on discussions of taphonomic processes, specifically carinvore damage (e.g. Marean et al.1990, 1991;Orloff and Marean 1990; Marean and Spencer 1991), in which carnivores tended to preferentially destroy vertebrae, ribs and pelves, the fact that the pelves and vertebrae were recovered in higher numbers than the ribs may point to the fact that indeed the carnivore damage is low, probably confined to some superficial puncture and gnawing damage.
More work needs to be done in the area around the Wasden site. The site itself is the only archaeological work that has been done in the section and in some of the contiguous sections. If the elements were removed from the site for the purpose of drying else where, that site may be closely associated in an as of yet uncovered location. It would be this site that explains how those removed portions were ultimately utilized. If the Wasden site is that of processing then the kill site may be in adjacent to the site. In either event Wasden would explicate more about the hunter-gatherer economy in Southeastern Idaho at 8000 BP.
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