The Burnham Site
Burnham site. Bones of extinct animals
from the Ice Ages were eroding from grey clay on banks
The Burnham site came to the attention of archaeologists
at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey in 1986. Dr. Don Wyckoff, now
with the Sam
Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, visited the site at
the request of the landowner, Mr. Vic Burnham. Mr. Burnham had noticed
unusual bones which he uncovered while bulldozing a stock pond.
The first bones examined proved to be from a now-extinct
bison from the period called the Pleistocene. During the Pleistocene,
glacial ice covered half of North America a mile deep in places.
Sea levels dropped as the ocean's waters were tied up in ice, opening
a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Archaeologists believe
the first humans came to North America over this land bridge.
The timing of the arrival of the first people is a
matter of interest and debate among archaeologists. Some believe
that people came to the continent toward the end of the Pleistocene,
perhaps 12,500 years ago. However, others, based on evidence gathered
from a few sites throughout the Americas, believe the arrivals occurred
in a series of migrations, perhaps beginning as far back as 30,000
At the Burnham site, Pleistocene animals including
camels, mammoths, extinct forms of bison and horses, and even alligators
died and their bones were preserved in the marshy clays. While interesting,
what really excited Wyckoff and other archaeologists were the chert
flakes found among the bones, flakes which result from human tool-making.
Excavations at the Burnham site continued for five
years. Snail shells and bone recovered from the site have been dated
to 33,000 years ago. The stratigraphy,
or layers of soil deposited over time, at the Burnham site has proven
to be very complex -- so complex that it may not be possible to
prove or disprove that the flakes found near the animal bones are
of the same age as the dated bones. However, the careful study of
the Burnham excavations has revealed much interesting information
about this ancient time and will be useful to others looking for
evidence of the earliest people who called Oklahoma home.
Skull of 30,000 year old bison, Bison