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January 07, 2005

Bison bones

DNA analysis of ancient bison bones tells a new story of bison migration and may overturn current archaeological convention on human settlement of North America.

Lionel Jackson of the Geological Survey of Canada and Mike Wilson of Douglas College gave a talk on the latest findings Dec. 7 at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver. Their work relates to DNA findings from an Oxford University team that focused on bison, the most widespread and persistent large animals of the era.

Two big points come out of the Oxford study: Bison were in decline, for reasons not yet clear, as much as 10,000 years before ice and human hunters put pressure on them, and the ice-free corridor was closed at least during the peak of the ice age. Isolated from the rest of the continent by glaciers, the northern bison died out. All of today's bison are descendants of a small southern group that eventually spread back up north. It follows that nomadic hunting people may also have populated Western Canada from the south.

More controversial are claims made by the linked news article that suggest implications for contemporary land claims by First Nations people. A northward, rather than southward, migration in the paleolithic is of obvious interest to anthropologists such as myself. I fail to see how this new model in any way speaks to, let alone refutes, Canadian treaty obligations to First Nations peoples.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 7, 2005 06:04 AM

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