Saturday, November 28, 2015


Bison in South Park, Colorado.
Photograph Peter Faris, 1990.

In the paper cited below the authors (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004) argue that the belief that Paleo-hunters did not live on the Colorado Plateau because the megafauna that they depended upon were absent is just a myth. They point to fossil remains located throughout the area in question, as well as rock art that they identify as representations of the megafauna in question, as proof that both the animals and the hunters occupied the Colorado Plateau from 12,000 to 6,000 BP. (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:189-195)

Fig. 16.8 - Bison illustrations from
the Colorado Plateau. Agenbroad
and Hesse, 2004, p. 194.

If this is indeed the case, then the rock art that they show as evidence toward their claims must be illustrations of the extinct megafauna species (mammoth and bison) that existed during that period. We thus have numerous examples of rock art portraying the extinct species Bison antiquus. The actual existence of rock art illustrating mammoths is somewhat more problematical although opinions in the field are not as closed against it as before.

"Twenty-seven radiocarbon dates are available for bison localities. These dates range from more than 40,000 to 355 B.P. (the former date is the approximate upper limit of radiocarbon technology). Six dates are from the protohistoric period, three are from the Archaic period, and 18 are from the late Pleistocene. This information suggests that bison were more abundant on the Colorado Plateau during the late Pleistocene than during most of the Holocene." (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:195)

"Maps of paleontological locales and artifacts show that megafauna and Paleoindians were present on the Colorado Plateau. When combined with rock art and a radiocarbon chronology, they provide convincing evidence to dispel the myth that human hunters and their major prey species did not live on the plateau from 13,000 to 6,000 B.P. Because of the dearth of preceramic studies in this region, at least 9,000 years of plateau prehistory is not being adequately researched." (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:195)

Fig. 16.6 - Map of locations of bison
and mammoth rock art on the
Colorado Plateau. Agenbroad
and Hesse, 2004, p. 192.

"Bison remains, Folsom and Plano artifacts, and bison rock art are also found on the plateau, and some areas contain all of these. Although some Folsom and Plano artifacts are found in areas of the plateau with no recorded paleontological Pleistocene than in the Holocene. The number of bison remains from Folsom and Plano (Paleoindian) sites nearly equals the number from late Archaic and protohistoric sites.
Prehistoric rock art, especially petroglyphs, also lends credence to the presence of Paleoindian hunters on the plateau from 12,000 to 6,000 B.P. These people were the "Pleistocene pioneers." It is unfortunate that their presence has been denied, overlooked, and unresearched for so long."  (Agenbroad and Hesse 2004:195)

Large bison petroglyph overlapping
a mammoth petroglyph,  San Juan
river, near Bluff, Utah. Malotki
and Wallace, 2011, p.147

Drawing of the large bison petroglyph
overlapping the mammoth petroglyph, 
San Juan river, near Bluff, Utah.
Malotki and Wallace, 2011, p.147.

The illustration (Fig. 16.8) as well as the map of locations of bison and mammoth rock art (Fig. 16.6) both include an example from the San Juan river near Bluff, Utah. Malotki and Wallace have identified this as the figure of a Columbian mammoth with the overlapping image of a large bison.(Malotki and Wallace 2011:147)  This would pretty much have to represent Bison antiquus, or one of his cousins. 

The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleoindian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Clovis culture appeared around 13,200 - 12,900 years before present, at the end of the last glacial period. Clovis is characterized by the manufacture of Clovis points and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Clovis peoples are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas. (Wikipedia)

In the Great Plains of the United States the following peoples ranging from 10,000 to 7,000 B.P. are designated as Plano, distinguished by long, lanceolate, projectile points; Agate Basin complex, named for the Agate Basin site; Cody Complex, named for the Horner site near Cody, Wyoming, and including the Olsen-Chubbuck Bison Kill site and the Jurgens site; Hell Gap complex named for the Hell Gap, Wyoming site and the Jones-Miller Bison Kill site; and the Foothills/Mountain complex. (Wikipedia)

The Folsom Complex dates to between 9000 B.C., and 8000 B.C., and is thought to have derived from the earlier Clovis culture. (Wikipedia)

Fremont (ca. AD 100 to 1300)
bison from 9-Mile Canyon,
Utah. Photograph by P. Heiple.

Until we can adequately date the bison images in question we will not be 100% certain, but logic suggests that some of the images portrayed do, in fact, represent the extinct species Bison antiquus, and, assuming that Agenbroad and Hesse are correct in their claims, then we also have examples of rock art from the Clovis, Plano, and Folsom peoples. The only real problem would seemingly be to discriminate it from the later examples.


Agenbroad, Larry D., and India S. Hesse,
2004    Megafauna, Paleoindians, Petroglyphs, and Pictographs of the Colorado Plateau, pages 189-195, in The Settlement of the American Continent: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Human Biogeography, edited by C. Michael Barton, Geoffrey A. Clark, David R. Yesner, and Georges A. Pearson, University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Malotki, Ekkehart, and Henry D. Wallace
2011    Columbian Mammoth Petroglyphs From The San Juan River Near Bluff, Utah, United States, pp. 143-152, in Rock Art Research 2011 - Volume 28, Number 2. 


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