Landscape engineering and organizational complexity among Late Prehistoric Bison hunters of the Northwestern plains

Maria Nieves Zedeño, Jesse A.M. Ballenger, John R. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Studies of hunter-gatherer sociopolitical organization consistently exclude terrestrial big-game hunters-pedestrian bison hunters, in particular-from discussions of emerging complexity. To an important extent, this exclusion stems both from the ethology of bison and its consequences for mobile hunters and from the character of their archaeological record, which lacks conventional indicators of organizational complexity such as high-status burials and long-term storage facilities. However, this record exhibits stone architecture of monumental proportions.We argue that evidence of emerging sociopolitical complexity is embodied in the hunters' ability to (1) invest extensively on landscape engineering to amass communal bison wealth for consumption, storage, and exchange, and (2) produce and reproduce ritual wealth among individuals and restricted sectors of the group. Through a multiscalar research design that integrates thousands of surface stone features with data recovered from kill site excavation, ethnohistorical records, and Blackfoot traditions, we demonstrate that Late Prehistoric bison hunters of the northwestern Plains endeavored to create conditions for permanence in their hunting territory by strategically emplacing andmaintaining hunting facilities. These, in turn, would be used by ensuing generations of culturally related groups for whom the communal hunt was a formal and ritually managed act.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-58
Number of pages36
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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