News broke last week that a 2000-year-old bison bone site had been destroyed last summer by a backhoe doing work at a mine site.
The Great Falls Tribune had the story:
The site, known as the Sarpy Creek Bison Kill site, was first discovered during a resource identification effort required under the National Historic Preservation Act for the company to expand the mine.
The largest bison bone bed was estimated to cover almost 3,000 square meters and contained the remains of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of butchered bison remains and prehistoric spear points dating back to the Late Archaic period, Utah State University anthropologist Judson Finley said.
This week, the Tribune is reporting that those knowledgeable about the sites and others involved with the project are divided on the significance of the site. Reporter David Murray talked with one archaeologist is urging quick action to help save any artifacts remaining in the area.
Those closely associated with the excavation have described the Sarpy Creek Bison Kill site as being of relatively minor scientific importance — one of hundreds of similar sites scattered across the Western United States and of little direct cultural significance to the Crow people.
“Those bones were discarded,” said Dale Old Horn, who served as Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer when the data recovery plan for the Sarpy Creek site was formulated. “The cultural significance of bones like that is food use, the recovery of tallow and bone marrow, and whatever items are collected for bone tools. The only other culturally important things were arrow heads. Crow cultural practice for bison bones after the food value is removed is to discard them. Anything that we kill for food we discard the bones, just as they did those many, many years ago. Any intimated cultural significance is conjured up.”
Critics of the excavation describe the now badly damaged site as having been one of the largest bone beds of its kind on the northern plains, and of major cultural significance not only to the Crow people, but to many native peoples as well as every archaeologist working in the area.
“It’s not just a pile of bones,” said Burdick Two Leggins, current Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. “It’s a sacred site. It’s a place where some people prayed and left offerings. For all these years it was there, and nobody came and messed with it. Now, just a handful of individuals have allowed somebody to put a backhoe to it.”
Utah State University anthropologist Judson Finley, who has personally examined the Sarpy Creek Bison Kill site on several occasions, said there is some evidence of a ceremonial closure of the butchering site generations ago. This is indicated by the discovery of several large stone projectile points that show little sign of use or wear, and which may have been left behind as a ceremonial offering.
Read the rest of the story.