Ancient Bison

Bison Antiquus (Ancient bison)

Ancient Bison Fauna
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Bison antiquus (Bison antiquus Leidy, 1852)

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Bovidae

Dimensions: length – 4.6 m, height – 2.27 m, weight – 1,588 kg


Temporal range: During the later Pleistocene epoch, between 200,000 and 10,000 years ago (North America)

Bison antiquus, sometimes called the “ancient bison”, was the most common large herbivore of the North American continent for over ten thousand years, and is a direct ancestor of the living American bison.

During the later Pleistocene epoch, between 240,000 and 220,000 years ago, steppe wisent (B. priscus), migrated from Siberia into Alaska. This species inhabited parts of northern North America throughout the remainder of the Pleistocene. In midcontinent North America, however, B. priscus was replaced by the long-horned bison, B. latifrons, and somewhat later by B. antiquus. The larger B. latifrons appears to have died out by about 20,000 years ago. In contrast, B. antiquus became increasingly abundant in parts of midcontinent North America from 18,000 ya until about 10,000 ya, after which the species appears to have given rise to the living species, B. bison. B. antiquus is the most commonly recovered large mammalian herbivore from the La Brea tar pits.

B. antiquus was taller, had larger bones and horns, and was 15-25% larger overall than modern bison. It reached up to 2.27 m tall, 4.6 m  long, and a weight of 1,588 kg. From tip to tip, the horns of B. antiquus measured about 3 ft (nearly 1 m).

One of the best educational sites to view in situ semifossilized skeletons of over 500 individuals of B. antiquus is the Hudson-Meng archeological site operated by the U.S. Forest Service, 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Crawford, Nebraska. A number ofpaleo-Indian spear and projectile points have been recovered in conjunction with the animal skeletons at the site, which is dated around 9,700 to 10,000 years ago. The reason for the “die-off” of so many animals in one compact location is still in conjecture; some professionals argue it was the result of a very successful paleo-Indian hunt, while others feel the herd died as a result of some dramatic natural event, to be later scavenged by humans. Individuals of B. antiquus of both sexes and a typical range of ages have been found at the site.

According to internationally renowned archaeologist George Carr Frison, B. occidentalis and B. antiquus, an extinct subspecies of the smaller present-day bison, survived the Late Pleistocene period, between about 12,000 and 11,000 years ago, dominated by glaciation (the Wisconsin glaciation in North America), when many other megafauna became extinct. Plains and Rocky Mountain First Nations peoples depended on these bison as their major food source. Frison noted that the “oldest, well-documented bison kills by pedestrian human hunters in North America date to about 11,000 years ago.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Genus: Bison
…………….Species: Bison latifrons (extinct Long-horned Bison)
…………….Species: Bison antiquus (extinct Ancient Bison)

…………….Species: Bison bison American Bison
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison bison (American Plains Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bison athabascae (American Wood Bison)
…………….Species:  Bison bonasus (European Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus bonasus (Lowland Bison)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus caucasicus (extinct in 1925)
…………………………..Subspecies: Bison bonasus hungarorum (extinct Hungarian Bison)


The steppe bison or steppe wisent (Bison priscus) is an extinct species of bison that was once found on the Mammoth steppe where its range included EuropeCentral AsiaJapan,YakutiaBeringia, and northwest Canada during the Quaternary.


Bison latifrons (also known as the broad-headed paleo-bison, giant Ice Age bison or long-horned bison) is an extinct species of bison that lived in North America during the Pleistoceneepoch. B. latifrons thrived in North America for approximately 200,000 years, but became extinct some 20,000–30,000 years ago, at the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum.




Just who are Bison related to?


By Jeff M. Martin

Put simply, the evolutionary history of Bison is complicated. I do not mean this to sound arrogant, or the typical hipster millennial “ironic” meaning. I mean, it is very complicated. Dozens of papers with many authors have attempted to answer this question, “How are bison, cattle, and oxen related to each other?”

If you would like to follow along with what I am talking about in an interactive format, please go here:,y-332,w1.9788.

Ancient Bison Family Tree

Bison and the cattles in the Tree of Life. Taxonomic classification labels are added. Abbreviations: Ma (mega annum = million years ago). Found at:,y-332,w1.9788


To begin, we’ll start at the taxonomic classification Family, the Bovidae (140+ living species and 300+ extinct species). Here contain our well known antelopes, cattles, gazelles, goats, and sheep. The characteristic of Bovids, is their four-chambered, ruminating stomachs and at least one pair of horns. They also typically inhabit grasslands. Their specialized ingestion and digestion forms are likely a result of their grazing lifestyle. These Family members can be traced back to around 22 million years ago, in the late Oligocene and early Miocene, when none of these existed, except for the extinct most common ancestor (Solounias et al., 1995; Badgley et al., 2008; Bibi, 2013). This would have looked like a cross between all of these (similar to Eotragus sp.) somewhere in Africa or the Middle East.

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Illustration: Eotragus sp. –T. Krutchuen, 2015.


Splitting down to the subfamily, Bovinae (24 species, ~9 living genera, in 3 tribes), these are our wild cattle, bison, Asian buffalo, kudu, and domestic cattle. The common ancestor for Bovinae existed somewhere around 17.7 million years ago in the middle Miocene (sensu Selenoportax vexillarius) (Badgley et al., 2008; Bibi, 2013).

From here is where the uncertainty lies and is reflected in the nomenclature of taxonomy, the subdivisions of taxonomy are referred to as a tribe, rather than a supergenus. Bison and Bos belong to the tribe Bovini which also includes Bubalus (water buffalo), Syncerus (cape buffalo), and Peudoryx (saola; Google this one, it looks similar to the Eotragus from above) (Ropiquet and Hassanin, 2005; MacEachern et al., 2009; Hassanin et al., 2013). The common ancestor for Bovini existed some 8.9 million years ago, in the late Miocene (sensu Selenoportax giganteus) (Bibi, 2013). The ancestor to Bison and Bos, at this time was Parabos. Parabos was found from Spain throughout Europe and spread East into Asia, giving rise to Proleptobos in China some 9 million years ago.

However, a further split, that is accepted is the oxen subtribe, Bovina (Hassanin and Ropiquet, 2004; MacEachern et al., 2009; Hassanin, 2015). This clade is represented only by Bison and Bos as the living genera and represents another 9 extinct genera. The subtribe Bovina split from the other subtribes around 4.6 million years ago (Bibi, 2013), in the early Pliocene Upper Siwaliks deposits of Pakistan (Khan et al., 2010)


(Khan et al., 2010). Within this deposit an ancestral form of bison (Probison dehmi, a sister group, not directly related to Leptobos) gave rise, some 3.3 million years ago, to the well accepted bison progenitor and radiated from the Bos tree, Bison sivalensis of the Siwaliks deposits in Pakistan (Pucek et al., 2002; Khan et al., 2010). Bison sivalensis gave rise to Bison priscus some 2 million years ago in eastern Asia (McDonald, 1981; Pucek et al., 2002). Furthermore, Bison priscus migrates into North America over the Bering Land Bridge some 1.2 million years ago (McDonald, 1981; Meagher, 1986).

Contemporaneously, this is when the aurochs (Bos primigenius) radiated from Leptobos, again some 1.2 million years ago (Vuure, 2005; Martínez-Navarro et al., 2007; Hassanin, 2015). Let me re-emphasize the point here, aurochs is not directly related to Bison, it is merely closely indirectly related through the Leptobos common ancestor. The aurochs is the grandfather of the modern cattles (humped zebu and brahma (Bos indicus), and the humpless Bos taurus) through two distinct domestication events in India and Europe, circa 8500 BCE and 6500 BCE (Vuure, 2005; Edwards et al., 2010; Hassanin, 2015).

Again, this means that we know that Bos and Bison split some 1.2 million years ago. However, what happens after 1.2 million years is where the more evidence we gather, the more muddled the waters become. It appears that through several ancient admixture events, ancient natural interbreeding pre-dating anthropogenic domestication, that the genetics of Bos and Bison were re-exchanged (Verkaar et al., 2003, 2004; Murray et al., 2010; Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015; Gautier et al., 2016; Massilani et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). An alternative explanation is that because these two genera split relatively recently, that the genetic makeup is so similar because of incomplete lineage sorting (evolutionarily closely related taxa sharing genetic makeup) (Verkaar et al., 2004; MacEachern et al., 2009; Pertoldi et al., 2010; Bibi, 2013; Hassanin et al., 2013; Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015; Gautier et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). Either, admixture or incomplete lineage sorting, explain the occurrence of (and expect there to be) cattle alleles in modern bison populations (Gautier et al., 2016; Leonardi et al., 2016; Massilani et al., 2016; Wecek et al., 2016). Moreover, this is supported by the presence of cattle alleles present in 19,000 year old bison (Marsolier-Kergoat et al., 2015).

Several migration events in and into North America, controlled by the oscillation of full-glacial and interglacial periods, of Bison populated the Alaska region and the contiguous United States (Canada is under ice during most of this) (Shapiro et al., 2004; Wilson et al., 2008). The migration route used is through Ice-Free Corridor, along the Canadian Rockies Cordilleran, where the alpine glaciers of the Rockies and the sheet glacier of the Canadian shield would periodically touch and pull apart (Wilson et al., 2008; Zazula et al., 2009; Heintzman et al., 2016). The glacial separation of these arctic and temperate populations to create the distinct lineages, Bison latifrons and Bison antiquus (McDonald, 1981; Wilson et al., 2008) (here, B. occidentalis is included within B. antiquus) (McDonald and Lammers, 2002).


Figure 1. Phylogeny of the bovini (modified from (Hassanin and Ropiquet, 2004)).

juzst who are the bison related to. 4pg

This timeline should not be used alone. The timeline ignores the intricacies of the total phylogenetic tree of the other related bovids. Abbreviations: Ma, mega annum (millions of years ago), ka, kilo annum (thousands of years ago). Timeline is not to scale.


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Badgley, C., J. C. Barry, M. E. Morgan, S. V Nelson, A. K. Behrensmeyer, T. E. Cerling, and D. Pilbeam. 2008. Ecological changes in Miocene mammalian record show impact of prolonged climatic forcing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:12145–12149.

Bibi, F. 2013. A multi-calibrated mitochondrial phylogeny of extant Bovidae (Artiodactyla, Ruminantia) and the importance of the fossil record to systematics. BioMed Central Evolutionary Biology 13:15. BMC Evolutionary Biology. Available online at 10.1186/1471-2148-13-166.

Edwards, C. J., D. A. Magee, S. D. E. Park, P. A. McGettigan, A. J. Lohan, A. Murphy, E. K. Finlay, B. Shapiro, A. T. Chamberlain, M. B. Richards, D. G. Bradley, B. J. Loftus, and D. E. MacHugh. 2010. A complete mitochondrial genome sequence from a mesolithic wild aurochs (Bos primigenius). PLoS ONE 5:0–8.

Gautier, M., K. Moazami-Goudarzi, H. Leveziel, H. Parinello, C. Grohs, S. Rialle, R. Kowalczyk, and L. Flori. 2016. Deciphering the wisent demographic and adaptive histories from individual whole-genome sequences. Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Hassanin, A. 2015. Systematics and phylogeny of cattle. Pp. 1–18, In D.J. Garrick and A. Ruvinsky (Eds.). The Genetics of Cattle. 2nd Editio. CAB International.

Hassanin, A., J. An, A. Ropiquet, T. T. Nguyen, and A. Couloux. 2013. Combining multiple autosomal introns for studying shallow phylogeny and taxonomy of Laurasiatherian mammals: Application to the tribe Bovini (Cetartiodactyla, Bovidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66:766–775. Available online at 10.1016/j.ympev.2012.11.003.

Hassanin, A., and A. Ropiquet. 2004. Molecular phylogeny of the tribe Bovini (Bovidae, Bovinae) and the taxonomic status of the Kouprey, Bos sauveli Urbain 1937. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 33:896–907. Available online at 10.1016/j.ympev.2004.08.009.

Heintzman, P. D., D. Froese, J. W. Ives, A. E. R. Soares, G. D. Zazula, B. Letts, T. D. Andrews, J. C. Driver, E. Hall, P. Gregory Hare, C. N. Jass, G. Mackay, J. R. Southon, M. Stiller, R. Woywitka, M. A. Suchard, and B. Shapiro. 2016. Bison phylogeography constrains dispersal and viability of the Ice Free Corridor in western Canada. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1–7.

Khan, M. A., D. S. Kostopoulos, M. Akhtar, and M. Nazir. 2010. Bison remains from the Upper Siwaliks of Pakistan. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie – Abhandlungen 258:121–128.

Leonardi, M., P. Librado, C. Der Sarkissian, M. Schubert, A. H. Alfarhan, S. A. Alquraishi, K. A. S. Al-Rasheid, C. Gamba, E. Willerslev, and L. Orlando. 2016. Evolutionary Patterns and Processes: Lessons from Ancient DNA. Systematic Biology 0:syw059. Available online at 10.1093/sysbio/syw059.

MacEachern, S., J. McEwan, and M. Goddard. 2009. Phylogenetic reconstruction and the identifcation of ancient polymorphism in the Bovini tribe (Bovidae, Bovinae). BioMed Central Genomics 10:1–17.

Marsolier-Kergoat, M.-C., P. Palacio, V. Berthonaud, F. Maksud, T. Stafford, R. Bégouën, and J.-M. Elalouf. 2015. Hunting the Extinct Steppe Bison (Bison priscus) Mitochondrial Genome in the Trois-Frères Paleolithic Painted Cave. Plos One 10:e0128267. Available online at 10.1371/journal.pone.0128267.

Martínez-Navarro, B., J. Antonio Pérez-Claros, M. R. Palombo, L. Rook, and P. Palmqvist. 2007. The Olduvai buffalo Pelorovis and the origin of Bos. Quaternary Research 68:220–226.

Massilani, D., S. Guimaraes, J.-P. Brugal, E. A. Bennett, M. Tokarska, R.-M. Arbogast, G. Baryshnikov, G. Boeskorov, J.-C. Castel, S. Davydov, S. Madelaine, O. Putelat, N. N. Spasskaya, H.-P. Uerpmann, T. Grange, and E.-M. Geigl. 2016. Past climate changes, population dynamics and the origin of Bison in Europe.

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Murray, C., E. Huerta-Sanchez, F. Casey, and D. G. Bradley. 2010. Cattle demographic history modelled from autosomal sequence variation. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences 365:2531–2539.

Pertoldi, C., M. Tokarska, J. M. Wójcik, A. Kawałko, E. Randi, T. N. Kristensen, V. Loeschcke, D. Coltman, G. a. Wilson, V. R. Gregersen, and C. Bendixen. 2010. Phylogenetic relationships among the European and American bison and seven cattle breeds reconstructed using the BovineSNP50 Illumina Genotyping BeadChip. Acta Theriologica 55:97–108.

Pucek, Z., I. P. Belousova, M. Krasińska, Z. A. Krasiński, and W. Olech. 2002. European Bison Bison bonasus: Current state of the species and an action plan for its conservation. Z. Pucek (Ed.). Mammal Research Institute. Polish Academy of Sciences, Bialowieza, Poland.

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Shapiro, B., A. J. Drummond, A. Rambaut, M. C. Wilson, P. E. Matheus, A. V Sher, O. G. Pybus, M. T. P. Gilbert, I. Barnes, J. Binladen, E. Willerslev, A. J. Hansen, G. F. Baryshnikov, J. A. Burns, S. Davydov, J. C. Driver, D. G. Froese, C. R. Harington, G. Keddie, P. Kosintsev, M. L. Kunz, L. D. Martin, R. O. Stephenson, J. Storer, R. Tedford, S. Zimov, and A. Cooper. 2004. Rise and fall of the Beringian Steppe Bison. Science 306:1561–1565. Available online at 10.1126/science.1101074.

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Verkaar, E. L. C., I. J. Nijman, M. Beeke, E. Hanekamp, and J. A. Lenstra. 2004. Maternal and paternal lineages in cross-breeding bovine species. Has wisent a hybrid origin? Molecular biology and Evolution 21:1165–1170. Available online at 10.1093/molbev/msh064.

Verkaar, E. L. C., H. Vervaecke, C. Roden, L. R. Mendoza, M. W. Barwegen, T. Susilawati, I. J. Nijman, and J. A. Lenstra. 2003. Paternally inherited markers in bovine hybrid populations. Heredity 91:565–569. article.

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Wecek, K., S. Hartmann, J. L. A. Paijmans, U. Taron, G. Xenikoudakis, J. A. Cahill, P. D. Heintzman, B. Shapiro, G. Baryshnikov, A. N. Bunevich, J. J. Crees, R. Dobosz, N. Manaserian, H. Okarma, M. Tokarska, S. T. Turvey, J. M. Wojcik, W. Zyla, J. M. Szymura, M. Hofreiter, and A. Barlow. 2016. Complex admixture preceded and followed the extinction of wisent in the wild.

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Archaeologists uncover 13,000-year-old bones of ancient, extinct species of bison at Old Vero Man site

May 11, 2016
In what is considered one of the oldest and most important archaeological digs in North America, scientists have uncovered what they believe are the bones of a 13,000- to 14,000-year-old ancient, extinct species of bison at the Old Vero Man Site in Vero Beach, Fla. Archaeologists from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute made this discovery just 10 feet below the ground’s surface during the final stretch of the 2016 excavation efforts at the Vero Beach site.
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provided by Florida Atlantic University. Original written by Gisele Galoustian. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.