Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bison Horn

I found this bison horn underground during a pipeline excavation on a low plain at the base of the Battle River watershed. Not too long after our work was finished in the valley another pipeline was being installed nearby. Work was halted there when workers discovered bison remains. An archeological survey team found evidence that the area was used as a bison run.
This Aboriginal hunting technique was similar to the more well known Buffalo Jumps, where hunters would force a bison herd to stampede through a V-shaped corral ending in a steep cliff. The bison would stream over the edge to an ever-growing pile of smashed meat. In the absence of a gorge, hunters would build the corral to end in a ring. Instead of harvesting the bison from a bloody assemblage at the base of the cliff these hunters would actually have to do the dangerous killing work.
This image has a hold on me. Huge beasts run shoulder to shoulder at full gallop down the hill, kept inside the ever-narrowing corral by fire and arrows. Thousands of steaming bison threaten to break through at any moment, trampling the tiny hunters. The terminus ring is an anarchic vision of bison Hell as the valley fills with smoke and the bellowing of the wounded and dying. Hunters with arrows and spears surround the circle, hoping desperately that the fires keep the powerful animals inside.
Think about that the next time you buy a cheeseburger and be thankful that the Europeans brought domesticated ungulates to North America. Because hunting bison sounds like a real bitch.

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