Archaeologists suspect they unearthed 13,000 yr old bison bone

What is thought to be a jaw-dropping 13,000 yr old thigh bone was found by an archaeologist in central Alberta. They suspect that the bone is skeletal remains of an ancient massive beast that would have weighed in at more than two tonnes. Today’s bison has many similarities to this ice age giant including surviving lightning strikes and a loyal, friendly nature that makes for an unusual household pet!

Weighing in at over 2 tonnes: The bison antiquus: an ancient bison that stood 2.4m tall, 4.6m long and roamed the plains of Southern Alberta over 13,000 years B.C.

Ancient Bison bone found in Southern Alberta

Ancient Bison traveled in herds of up to 700. Imagine the sight of 700 Bison weighing up to 2 tonnes each – the noise would have been thunderous!

World’s Largest Household Pet

Meet Bailey Jr. from Sprucegrove Alberta. This 1.5 tonne bison is a living relative to the bison antiquus. Owner Jim Sautner drives Bailey Jr. (Bailey Sr. died) around in his convertible and occasionally brings him to the local establishment to share a beer. Although bison seem to be loyal and friendly with a small number of humans they can get aggressive.

Survived a Lightning Strike

Bison are survivors. They were nearly hunted to extinction in the late 1800’s but have survived against the odds of the ice age and other natural dangers. This is a photo of  “Sparky” a bison that survived a lightning strike in 2013. The burn marks are still visible on his back.

Photo by Karen Viste-Sparkman, USFWS.


A Lone Bone

Recently, archaeologists discovered a bone they suspect belongs to an ancient Bison Antiquus in a 3 metre trench below the ground under a layer of material from what was thought to be the last ice age. The preservation of the remains was remarkable considering that bison bones usually disintegrate.

“It’s more than likely a species of bison,” says Madeline Coleman, an archaeologist with Edmonton-based Tree Time Services . The lone bone, thought to be a portion of an adult bison’s radius, will be compared to ancient bison bones stored in a collection at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and is expected to undergo testing, “possibly carbon-dating,” adds Coleman.

The Lone Bone. Image of the adult bison radius supplied by Tree Time Services Inc

Discovery hints at humans living in southern Canada 11,000 BC

“Human occupation in Alberta started around 11,000 B.C.,” Coleman explains. “As glaciers moved out of the province, people started moving in.”

Within 10 km of the area, the provincial government has recorded 112 other historically significant sites that includes everything from isolated finds, such as ancient projectile points, and large prehistoric campsites to farmsteads, ranches and other historic structures dating back to the 19th century.

Projectile points are prehistoric spear points and to know you are the first person to touch it since the person who made and used it so many thousands of years ago.

In the area, there are also a number of bison kill sites, where indigenous populations drove herds of bison off river margins and other topographical high points. It wasn’t the fall that would prove fatal, Coleman notes, but the impact of the bison falling on one another.

Eleanor Hood   

Elenore Hood, displays a lithic flake found at the site. A lithic flake is a portion of rock that was removed from a cobble core in the fashioning of prehistoric weapons, such as arrowheads, and  other tools. No other bones were found. Coleman and Hood did collect and catalogue over 50 lithic flakes and three cores they found in other tests around the site. 

Alberta Culture and Tourism will decide next steps

The archaeologists are now completing an interim report to Alberta Culture and Tourism  containing recommendations for further evaluation.“We would like to do more testing just to see if anything else pops up, but that will depend on Alberta Culture,” Coleman adds. “What we’d like to see is the area plowed because everything we’re finding is in the plow zone.” The plow zone, she explains, is the top layer of the soil to the depth at which a plow will penetrate and disturb archeological deposits. She estimates the plow zone in this case is about 30 to 40 cm deep.

The Tree Time Services archaeologists expected to file their interim report with Alberta Culture and Tourism this week.
“We’re hoping to have an answer within two weeks,” Coleman notes. As mandated by Alberta Culture and Tourism, the County has also contracted paleontologists to examine the area in the coming days.

Bison or Buffalo?

Early settlers called bison “bufello” due to the similar appearance between the two animals, and the name “buffalo” stuck for the North American variety. But it’s wrong. The bison (Bison bison) lives only in North America, while the two main buffalo species reside in Africa and Asia.

Other Ice Age Giants include a 2.7m beaver

The ice age was a fascinating period that we continue to learn about. Check out these Ice Age Giants including this giant 2.7m beaver!




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