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16 June 2017
Scientists solve prehistoric bison hunt mystery

In the summer of 2002 archaeologists excavated an area of Bear Creek in Stanton County (Kansas, USA), who uncovered a mystery buried within the grey soil. They uncovered a thick bed of white bone that stretched 40 yards with skeletons were bunched up shoulder to shoulder. According to Rolfe Mandel, geoarchaeologist from the University of Kansas: "What we found was more than a great story. It is a window in time - and an ancient testament to human daring."
     The bison grave predates the invention of the bow and arrow, meaning that these bison were killed from an arm's length distance. This was incredibly dangerous, so the hunters used to kill the bison worked as an ambush team.
     The hunters are referred to as Paleo Indians, i.e. pre Native American populations, and are known to be hunter-gatherers working in bands of no more than 30 people. In these bands, they followed bison on foot, walking hundreds of miles every year. The bison were found 50 years west of an alfalfa-covered depression, called a playa, common in western Kansas that are often carved by wind and then fill with water, which would attract bison.
     It is believed that the hunters did not wander around blindly, but targeted the playas where prey would gather. Once the prey was spotted, the group would divide into two teams, spear throwers and the drivers. The drivers mission would be to scare the bison into moving and eventually push them back into the bank, where the bison could not move, where they would be easy targets. From the excavations, they could determine that the spear throwers would have been on the other side of the bank.
     This was a specialized band of hunters, as noted by University of Kansas anthropologist Jack Hofman: "Bisons are so hard to hunt on foot that you probably need to specialize. You don't just live along a rover gathering mussels, and one day pick up a sharp stick and hunt bison."

Edited from The Wichita Eagle (27 May 2017)

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