One of the challenges in archaeology is to take a familiar landscape and, by considering the known data from the paleo sciences, make it strange and unfamiliar and ripe with possibilities for strange and unfamiliar archaeology. Right here in the southern Salish Sea there is an excellent example of this coming to light. As the ice retreated at the end of the last glacial period, the Salish Sea saw dramatic changes in sea level (both higher, and lower), in vegetation (tundra, grassland, and forest) and in the animals present on that dynamic landscape.
For years now, we have known that one of the large land mammal species of the Salish Sea around 14,000 years ago was bison — and not just any bison, but Bison antiquus, the extinct giant bison. A number of remains of this creature have been found, mostly on the Saanich Peninsula and on Orcas Island, which is one of the largest islands in the Salish Sea, sitting just south of Saturna Island, close to the Canadian Border. Since these remains mostly clocked in at around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, most archaeologists were interested in them primarily for their coolness factor and not because they seriously thought there might be relevance to early human presence here – these bison pre-date the Clovis Culture which was the consensual evidence for the first peopling of the Americas. I have previously posted on this with reference to Clovis in Puget Sound, to the controversial Manis Mastodon site, as well as to the nearby Wenas Mammoth and even the Paisley Cave finds in Oregon – evidence is coming together for both a Clovis and a pre-Clovis occupation of the Salish Sea and environs.
Now with a new paper by Kenady et al. in press, these numerous bison finds take on a new importance: one of them is most likely archaeological.