Click on Oklahoma
map to return to county listings
The Cooper Site
Some time between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, a group
of Paleoindian hunters gathered in the late summer or early fall
in the Beaver River floodplain in Harper County. They were armed
with spears, and their quarry was a now-extinct species of bison
known as Bison antiquus. These hunters ranged over a large territory
where they could find the giant bison. The lives of their families
were intimately dependent on the success of their hunts.
This time, they planned to kill not just one or a few animals as
they often did in winter and spring. This time they planned a hunt
where many bison would be killed. The success of such a hunt required
careful planning and good fortune. The plan was one that had been
executed successfully just a few years past. Finding a cow/calf
herd in the floodplain, they had driven the panicked animals up
into a dead-end gully where hunters up on the arroyo banks threw
spears down on the milling herd and killed many bison in relative
safety. They knew the plan was good and to insure good fortune,
the hunters took part in a hunting ritual. They retrieved a bleached
skull from the previous gully kill. They prepared a red ochre paint
from local stone rich in the blood-red mineral, iron. They then
painted a powerful symbol on the bison skull and placed it at the
head of the gully where it could draw another herd of bison up to
the waiting hunters. The plan and the ritual succeeded. As many
as 30-35 bison were killed. A few years later, a third kill took
place in the same gully.
Bison antiquus skeletons uncovered
at the Cooper site.
In 1992, Dick James, a game warden in the Cooper Wildlife Management
Area, showed Oklahoma Archeological Survey archeologist Lee Bement
where large bones were caving off a sandy bluff near the Beaver
River. During that first trip, there were no signs that people had
a hand in the deaths of the bison whose bones were eroding from
the cliff. However, another trip to the site brought the find of
a spearpoint, left by those hunters more than 10,000 years ago.
Since that discovery, a meticulous excavation of the site has uncovered
all three bison kill episodes. Because of the care taken during
the excavation, even the painted bison skull was recovered although
the bison herd from the second hunt had trampled parts of it. That
skull, the oldest painted object ever found in North America, is
now on exhibit at the Sam
Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
Trampled bison skull with ritual zigzag
Research continues on the fascinating Cooper site and the early
hunters known to archeologists as the Folsom culture. The Folsom
point is a distinctive, finely crafted spearpoint used by big game
hunters who lived on the Great Plains from 10,900 to 10,200 years
ago. Study of the Cooper site is answering many questions about
the Folsom people, their tools and their culture.
Folsom points from the Cooper site.
For further reading, consult:
at Cooper Site, Where Lightning Bolts Drew Thundering Herds
by Leland C. Bement, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.
Visit Dr. Bement's website about the Cooper
Prehistoric Sites in Harper County Identified to Time