Bison Anatomy

Last year I was on the hunt for how many bones a bison had. Simple question right?  No, it’s not and you’ll read why. It took me months to find the correct answer and with the help of my friend Dr. Jeff Martin. So I hope you can use this work created by L. C. Todd which is a gift for anyone seeking information about this subject.


Bison Bones

Many thanks to:

Dr. Lawrence C. Todd
Adjunct Professor

Larry Todd (BA, University of Wyoming, MA, PhD, University of New Mexico) is also Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at Colorado State University and a Research Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin.   A native of Meeteetse (Wyoming), Larry has taught Anthropology/Archaeology at Denver University, Boston University, University of Wyoming, Colorado State University, and Northwest College. For much of his academic career, he focused on the excavation and taphonomic analysis of bison bonebeds. Since 2009 when he retired from Colorado State University and returned home to Meeteetse, he splits his time between researching early human paleoecology in NW Ethiopia and investigating prehistoric montane/alpine landuse in NW Wyoming.

Bison Anatomy- clickable images

Q. How much does a dry bison skeleton weigh? (referring to the Bison Bones Market)

Bison Cranium Anatomy

A. Although the bison I weighed had only been dead about a year when weighed, I still think 50 lbs is an underestimate. I just went out and weighed this cranium from an animal that died in the 1920s or 1930s and has been drying since. Without mandibles it alone weighs 17kg (~38 lbs), so with the rest of the bones even very dry, think the bottom line is indeed above 50lbs. 

From the Field Notes of Dr. Todd:

We mapped and documented scattereSkelton Weightsd segments of carcasses in Wind Cave Park in 1986. All had been defleshed by carnivores and decayed. Dried, but often still with attached dried connective tissue. Here are weights for several legs and thorax units. The sort of bottom line comes out to just over 50 kg (114 lbs). Without having weighed a larger sample, I have to say this is a ballpark figure.



Archeologist Count

Q: How many bones does a bison have?

A: “For me, a bison has between 218 and 248 bones (depending if count only permanent teeth or permanent and deciduous), and whether includes costal cartilage or not (while named cartilage, these ossify and preserve as bones in archaeological and paleontological setting and hence need counting when we develop our MNI [minimum number of individuals] estimates for an assemblage). There are other smaller bones like in the hyoid group where there  are 11 total bones where I count only the two larger, more durable (stylohyoids) because I never have found the others archaeologically.”



Terms of Orientation - Bison Bones
Orientation of Terms
Bison Anatomy LC Todd
Bison Skeleton




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