Buffer Zones and Prey Populations

Based on ethnohistoric research, Harold Hickerson argued that deer were more abundant in the buffer zone between the territories of two warring tribes (Sioux and Chippewa) in the Upper Midwest than in either tribe’s home territory. Hunters were wary of entering the buffer zone (but did not completely avoid them) because of the risk of running into their enemies. Once conflict between the two tribes ended, deer hunting resumed in the buffer zone, leading to a decrease in deer populations.

Hickerson, Harold

1965 The Virginia Deer and Intertribal Buffer Zones in the Upper Mississippi Valley. In Man, Cultures, and Animals: The Role of Animals in Human Ecological Adjustments, edited by Anthony Leeds and Andrew P. Vayda, pp. 43–65. Publication No. 78. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C.

A more recent series of articles debated whether the buffer zone concept applied to Native Americans and animal populations in the western United States encountered by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s. Click on the links for pdfs of these articles.

Martin, Paul, and Christine Szuter

1999       War zones and game sinks in Lewis and Clark’s West. Conservation Biology 13(1):36-45.


Lyman, R. Lee, and Steve Wolverton

2002       The Late Prehistoric–Early Historic Game Sink in the Northwestern United States. Conservation Biology 16(1):73-85.


Laliberte, Andrea S., and William J. Ripple

2003       Wildlife Encounters by Lewis and Clark: A Spatial Analysis of Interactions between Native Americans and Wildlife. BioScience 53(10):994-1003.


Have Deer Gotten Smaller Since the Archaic?

A white-tailed deer in the Adirondacks of New York.  Late Archaic deer were larger than modern New York deer.
A white-tailed deer in the Adirondacks of New York. Deer in the Adirondacks tend to be smaller than those found in Central New York. Late Archaic deer were larger than modern New York deer. Source: Mwanner. Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

The average white-tailed deer killed during the Late Archaic at Lamoka Lake weighed 77 kg, or 170 pounds.

That’s the estimate derived from measuring the astragalus, a bone in the lower leg of white-tailed deer.  By the Late Woodland to Protohistoric Period in New York, deer found at the Engelbert Site averaged 64.5 kg, or 142 pounds.

How big was the largest identified deer at Lamoka Lake? Over 155 kg, or  342 pounds.

To learn how these weight estimates were derived, and learn more about deer body size, get the paper:

Preliminary Archaeological Evidence for a Decrease in White-Tailed Deer Body Size in New York during the Holocene.



Seneca Subsistence and Trade in the Eighteenth Century

A recent study of bones from an early historic Iroquois site includes a comparison with the much earlier animal bones from the Lamoka Lake site as well as some interesting passenger pigeon finds.

Adam Watson and Stephen Cox Thomas studied animal bones from the early 18th century Townley-Read site in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Seneca who lived at the site may have hunted deer year-round. Deer hides, as well as furs from other animals, would have been traded with European colonists. The detailed taphonomic analysis also indicates that deer bones were likely processed to extract the fat-rich grease from the spongy portions of the bones. This is usually considered to be evidence of nutritional stress, but they make the case that processing for bone grease was “a planned accumulation of resources rather than an ad hoc response to seasonal food shortfalls.” (p. 115)

Also of interest is the identification of passenger pigeon bones from one feature at the site. Passenger pigeon, of course, tends to be present at prehistoric archaeological sites in the region with good bone preservation, but in this case, four of the bones are from immature pigeons, providing good evidence specifically for the procurement of squabs in the springtime.

A small number of American eel bones, in contrast, are more likely to indicate fishing in the fall, when eels are heading downstream to spawn.

As a whole, the assemblage has some interesting differences from both earlier and later archaeological sites in New York.  The authors provide a detailed and well-researched analysis of the animal bones from this Iroquois site to make the point that “the evidence for economic resilience and stability at Townley-Read contradicts a narrative of pervasive and unimpeded decline, and reinforces the importance of continuing to build and test empirical models grounded in both local and regional archaeological and historical data.” (p. 115)

Watson, Adam S. and Stephen Cox Thomas

2013The Lower Great Lakes Fur Trade, Local Economic Sustainability and the Bone Grease Buffer: Vertebrate Faunal Remains from the Eighteenth Century Seneca Iroquois Townley-Read Site. Northeast Anthropology 79-80: 81–123.


Worked Antler Artifact from Lamoka Lake

Information provided with the permission of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 10th and Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20560-0193. (http://www.nmnh.si.edu/)
Information provided with the permission of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 10th and Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20560-0193. (http://www.nmnh.si.edu/)


In 1950, the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences donated several modified bone and antler artifacts from the Lamoka Lake Site to the Smithsonian Institution. One of them was the artifact above (Accession No. A397991), made from a white-tailed deer or possibly elk (wapiti) antler.

William Ritchie, in his 1932 report, considered this and other artifacts like it as possible pendants, amulets, or tally sticks. They may also have had a more practical use. Some antler artifacts from the site were also decorated with red ochre stripes.  To my knowledge, these artifacts have not been studied by anyone else since the original analysis by Ritchie in the 1920s.