Ancient Bison

(Ancient bison) Bison Antiquus 

Following the Clovis Culture came the Folsom Man (8-10,000 years ago). The Folsom tools and weapons differed somewhat from their predecessors. (the points being smaller and fluted), and have been found not so much in the mammoth as in the Bison antiques,  a one-fourth-larger ancient cousin of the “American Buffalo.” By use of the spear-throwing stick, early Indians could increase the range and force of their spears. But since the animals were so large,  the hunters often found it easier to kill these beasts by driving them into swamps or over cliffs, rather than spearing them. (The Folsom, NM dig in 1925)

Robertson, Pauline Durrett & Robertson, R. L. Panhandle Pilgrimage: Illustrated Tales Tracing History in the Texas Panhandle, book, 1978; Amarillo, Texas.: accessed September 27, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History ; crediting Canyon Area Library.

Ancient Bison Paleo Indians -Nomadic Hunters


Robertson, Pauline Durrett & Robertson, R. L. Panhandle Pilgrimage: Illustrated Tales Tracing History in the Texas Panhandle, book, 1978; Amarillo, Texas. (image right)


Thanks to Prehistoric Fauna for the use of their illustration and information. A site like no other.

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

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)


Jan 13, 2023-  Posted on Dallas Paleontological Society (facebook)

The remains, Bison latifrons skull, “and both horns were present and attached. It was a very rare find. We started excavating it and as the day progressed I realized how massive it was. Only on the second day was the other horn excavated. From tip to tip it was close to two meters across. I knew I did not have the materials to successfully plaster it and get it out of the creek. I also found 2 ribs as I was excavating. One was under the skull. The second one I partially plastered to protect it overnight.”

“Today we finished the excavation and plastered the beast’s skull. SMU will have to go back out to get it later this week after they plaster in a 2 x 4 and other structure for added support. The site also has the partial remains of a juvenile mastodon that needs to be excavated as well as something not yet identified.” KP (Located on private property, the family contacted SMU)


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.

Ancient Bison - Bison_antiquusDuring 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 of paleo-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.”

Bison Latifrons
Bison latifrons fossil. Bison latifrons Harlan, 1825 fossil buffalo skeleton from the Pleistocene of North America (public display, Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA). The extinct giant buffalo, Bison latifrons, was remarkable in having horns with a >3 times longer span than the modern American buffalo (Bison bison).


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 Europe, Central Asia, Japan, Yakutia, Beringia, and northwest Canada during the Quaternary.




The steppe bison is one of several extinct large mammals that roamed interior Alaska during the Wisconsinan glacial period, 100,000 to

Steppe Bison Mummy
Animals expanded south during occasional warm periods in the Ice Age, following a corridor between the sheets. A steppe bison mummy found in Alaska is 36,000 years old. “Blue Babe” was killed by giant Ice Age American lions. UA Museum of the North

10,000 years ago. This specimen died about 36,000 years ago and was found during the summer of 1979. It has a bluish color over the entire carcass, caused by the phosphorus in the animal tissue reacting with the iron in the soil to produce a mineral coating of vivianite – which became a brilliant blue when it was exposed to air. Hence the name Blue Babe.

Though new research shows that Blue Babe is at least 50,000 years old, according to the university’s Curator of Archaeology, Josh Reuther.

Atlas Obscura – News

ONE NIGHT IN 1984, A handful of lucky guests gathered at the Alaska home of paleontologist Dale Guthrie to eat stew crafted from a once-in-a-lifetime delicacy: the neck meat of an ancient, recently-discovered bison nicknamed Blue Babe.

The dinner party fit Alaska tradition: Since state law bans the buying, bartering, and selling of game meats, you can’t find local favorites such as caribou stew at restaurants. Those dishes are enjoyed when hunters host a gathering. But their meat source is usually the moose population—not a preserved piece of biological history.

Blue Babe had been discovered just five years earlier by gold miners, who noticed that a hydraulic mining hose melted part of the gunk that had kept the bison frozen. They reported their findings to the nearby University of Alaska Fairbanks. Concerned that it would decompose, Guthrie—then a professor and researcher at the university—opted to dig out Blue Babe immediately. But the icy, impenetrable surroundings made that challenging. So he cut off what he could, refroze it, and waited for the head and neck to thaw.

January 26, 2018

Eirik Granqvist working on the taxidermy of Blue Babe. UA MUSEUM OF THE NORTH

Blue Babe Steppe Bison

From the caption of the photo above, printed in the April 27, 1984 edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: VERY OLD BISON – Eirik Granqvist, chief head taxidermist for the Zoological Museum, University of Helsinski, Finland, works to restore the remains of a bison which died 36,000 years ago. The bison was preserved in permafrost until discovered three years ago. The specimen will soon be on display at the University of Alaska’s museum.

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 Pleistocene epoch. 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?”Ancient Bison - Jeff Martin

If you would like to follow along with what I am talking about in an interactive format, please go here:

Bison and the cattles in the Tree of Life. Taxonomic classification labels are added. Abbreviations: Ma (mega annum = million years ago). Found here

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.


Just who are bison related to 3pg


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)).just who are the bison related to. 4pg





Just who are the bison related to. 5pgThis 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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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.

Vuure, C. van. 2005. Retracing the aurochs: history, morphology and ecology of an extinct wild ox. Pensoft Pub.

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.

Wilson, M. C., L. V Hills, and B. Shapiro. 2008. Late Pleistocene northward-dispersing Bison antiquus from the Bighill Creek Formation, Gallelli gravel pit, Alberta, Canada, and the fate of Bison occidentalis. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 45:827–859. Available online at 10.1139/E08-027.

Zazula, G. D., G. MacKay, and T. D. Andrews. 2009. A late Pleistocene steppe bison (Bison priscus) partial carcass from Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories, Canada. Quaternary Science … 28:2734–2742. Elsevier Ltd. Available online at 10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.06.012.


The Bend Bulletin Bend, Oregon Mar 12 1930 Find Bison Skulls In Idaho

Two fossil bison skulls have been found In Idaho, representing the species Bison alleni. California has also yielded some fossil material, Bison antiquus. Although seven species have been recognized in North American, it is probable, paleontologists say, that these animals were not all contemporaneous. For instance Bison latifrons, with horns measuring six feel from tip to tip and eight feet, six inches around the curvature, in considered one of the earliest of the North American bisons. Several species of bison have been discovered in deposits in Alaska, enhancing the theory that the animals migrated to this continent across the old Bering land connection.

Belief that the Ochoco skull is that of an extinct species is strengthened by the fact that it is unusually large – considerably larger that the bison material from the southwest which is part of the Mitchell collection in the Deschutes county library. Practically all the extinct species were larger than Bison bison, the only species, outside of the wood bison of Canada, now found in North America. An effort is to be made to secure additional bison material from the Crooked River Valley.


The Bend Bulletin Bend, Oregon Mar 13 1930 THE BISON TRAIL

Recent discovery on Ochoco creek of the skull of a bison, first over found in this Immediate section of the estate, calls to mind the fact that this mammal, an immigrant from the old world not so long ago as time is measured by geologists, once ranged over North America, from Alaska to Florida, in vast numbers. In pleistocene times, that age when a blanket of ice moved the northern part of the continent, seven recognizable species of bison lived in this part of the world. At present, only one species is found in the United States and that is rapidly disappearing.

The disappearance from this continent of the many species of bison would not be of significance to students of ancient life if this creature had been the only one to take the trail of fossils into entombing sediments. However; the early and mid-pleistocene life of the continent was the most varied of the entire geological period known as the cenozoic. There were mastodons and, an array of elephants more varied than those of the old world. Horses of many kinds and sizes ranged over mountains and across meadow areas. Tapirs roamed through the forests. Great herds of large llamas and several species of camels majestically paced over the changing world. True cattle were not present, but bison were widely scattered. And preying upon those animals were many strange cats, including the saber tooth.

As the ice sheet moved south over the continent there occurred one of the most widespread extinctions of mammals ever read from the record of the rocks. When European explorers reached America only the bison and a few immigrant sheep remained of the vast horde of animals which moved to this continent across the Bering land connection early in pleistocene times. The widespread extinction is supposed to have been contemporaneous with a change in climate, but few paleontologists believe that the ice sheet directly caused this extinction. However, it is believed that the period of cold was indirectly responsible. The glacial period in North America, geologists say, originated new conditions of life which, overcrowd-southerly areas, diminished herds, caused migrations and resulted in new relations with various enemies. The new conditions upset the biological balance and only the bison survived. Why one species of bison should have lived through the glacial period and allied creatures should have perished is an unexplained mystery.

However, there should be no surprise that bisons once lived in Oregon. The trail of the immigrants from Europe and Asia across the Bering connection and south over Alaska and Canada to the bison land of the southwest must have passed near Oregon.

In time, sediments of Oregon may yield other specimens, including the gigantic bison latifrons, an animal with a horn spread of six feet from tip to tip./


The Bend Bulletin Bend, Oregon Dec 26 1930
BREAKING ICE BUFFALO TRAP Theory May Explain Finding Skeleton

Breaking ice, not range fires or attacks by Indians, explains the mystery of many bison skeletons in portions of Malheur lake which have been exposed by the drouth of recent years, it is the belief of early day residents of Central Oregon, who have learned that the biological survey has just secured the skulls of 40 of the animals from the lake bed. As a result of the discovery, Mulheur lake is being referred to as Central Oregon’s death trap of the ages.

Biological survey officials are mystified by the presence of so many skeletons in one part of the lake, according to information from the office of Stanley G. Jewett in Portland, and the theory has been advanced that a wall of burning grass hemmed in the animals and caused them to stampede into the deep water, where they perished. Local people believe this is a remote possibility. The theory that the bisons were stricken with some malady which caused them to seek water. In which they died, is also believed untenable. The ice breaking theory, it is said, is a logical explanation.

Water Hole Sought It is believed that in some post winter, probably 75 years or more ago, a herd of bison, seeking water after ranging over the lake country plateau, felt their way out on the ice, hunting a hole in which thirst could be quenched. The weight of the herd finally caused the ice to break, it is held. Hemmed in by the marginal ice, the bison wore unable to break their way to shore and perished in the arctic water. Bison, it is pointed out, can swim, and even if they had rushed into the lake to escape a grass fire, they could have made their way out again.

It is said that the skeletons, found by Vernon Bailey, United States biological survey naturalist, are scattered over an area of approximately 2000 acres. If the ice breaking theory is true, this would indicate that the bison floundered around in the water, seeking an open channel back to shore, for considerable time before they perished.

Big Areas Uncovered Gradually receding water is uncovering large areas of the old lake bottom each year and it is believed that many more skeletons will be found. Breaking ice might have served as a trap over a long period of years, it is explained.

The discovery of the bison skeletons in Malheur lake is not the first of its kind to mystify scientists. Fossil lake, a depression in Lake county once covered by a vast body of water, as early as 50 years ago yielded the bones of innumerable mammals of early pleistocene age and paleontologists are at a loss to explain why such beasts as camels, horses and mastodons should have died in the lake. It has been suggested that the animals bogged down in mud and were trapped. The discovery of many aged creatures furthered this opinion. It was explained that the old animals, weakened in vitality, could not escape from the mud. However, remains of many young mammals have also been found and the theory in recent years has been weakened. Some paleontologists believe that breaking ice might also account for the abundance of mammal remains in Fossil lake.

Early Traces Found Fossil lake has yielded to scientists some of the most interesting pleistocene faunae found in western America. The mammals discovered in Fossil lake are representative of a division of the pleistocene which preceded that age when such creatures as the sabre toothed tiger, strange wolves, horses and mastodons bogged down in the tar pits of California known as the Rancho la Brea deposits. Four different types of extinct horses were found in Fossil lake.

Jewett of the biological survey points out that the discovery of bison, definitely settles the question of whether bison ever ranged over Oregon. Only last year the skull of a bison was found on Ochoco creek, near Prineville. Bison material has been found in some of the caves near Bend.

While holding the ice theory tenable, there are a number of people who believe that the bison which perished in Malheur lake might have been driven into the deep water by Indian hunters. It is the hope of these people that a careful study be made of the bison bones, to ascertain if they bear marks made by arrow points


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

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.

Story Source:
provided by Florida Atlantic University. Original written by Gisele Galoustian. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.