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Courson Family Bison Research Center Established

Courson Family Bison Research Center Established

A bison research center featuring one of the largest collections of artifacts showing human/bison interaction in North America over a span of decades has been established at the University of Oklahoma.

The Courson Family Bison Research Center, which will be housed within the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, is named in honor of the Harold Courson Family of Perryton, Texas, for their continuous support of the archaeological investigation of bison kill sites within Oklahoma.

All of the excavations were directed by survey archaeologist Leland Bement between 1992 and 2019. The CFBRC includes state-of-the-art retractable storage units, a layout lab and an internet-accessible computer hub with a searchable digital database, all of which will be accessible to researchers for study.

“Lee has been working on human and bison interaction in the Western Oklahoma for almost 30 years,” said Amanda Regnier, director of the Oklahoma Archeological Survey. “Several years ago, he realized this is an important collection because it spans such a time and includes all ages. This is among the biggest collections that exist in North America and contains rare specimens not found elsewhere.”

The Courson Family Bison Research Center is a biological archive of bison remains recovered from large-scale bison kill sites in western Oklahoma. The kill sites span 11,000 years, including Clovis, Folsom, Late Paleoindian, Late Archaic and the hide hunters of the 1880s. The collection has enormous research potential for investigating past bison use by humans and changes in bison populations through time. The collection includes over 50,000 bison bones representing well over 800 bison. 

The collection also includes artifacts associated with each site, including Clovis, Folsom, Late Paleoindian and Late Archaic projectile points and knives, field notes, maps and photographs of the excavations.

One of the most important specimens from the collection is on display to the public at the Sam Noble Museum. At 10,500 years old, the Cooper Skull, painted with a red zigzag pattern, is the oldest painted object in North America.

“This is a culmination of a lot of my research at OU,” said Bement. “Harold Courson has been one of the supporters of my research, starting back when I met him for the first time in 1994. I wanted to put this into a usable collection.”

Bement and his team of collaborators, which includes graduate and undergraduate students, have taken and entered measurements into the database. They looked at changes in populations of bison and how human interaction has changed that and also how bison herd composition and size of the bison changed the strategies that humans used in hunting behavior.

Currently, there are cutting-edge bison studies employing the collection. Topics include trace element analyses of bison tooth enamel, paleo-environmental reconstruction using bison bone stable isotopes and bison tooth enamel isotopes, mitochondrial DNA analyses of 19th-century 2,000-year-old and 9,000-year-old bison and development of better radiocarbon sampling of bison skeletal material.

“We will have the collection organized by site and time period,” said Bement. “These collections are already being utilized by other researchers, but this will make it easier for them to come in and see what is here and obtain materials. All of the measurements and analyses on the collections has been computerized and will be accessible.”

Construction is underway on the storage units and plans are for the collection to be operable by early 2020.  

About the Courson Family Bison Research Center

Graduate Degrees Awarded
5 M.A.s in Anthropology (Archaeology) and Geology
3 Ph.D.s in Anthropology (Archaeology) 

Major Funding Grants
2 National Science Foundation grants
4 National Geographic Society grants

Key Field Schools
11 Field Schools training approximately 200 students

Kent Buehler, OU
Kirsten Tharalson, OU
Cecil Lewis, OU
Brian Carter, OSU
Kristen Carlson, Augustana University
Thomas Stafford, Stafford Labs, CO
Douglas Kennett, Penn State
Brendan Culleton, Penn State
Eileen Johnson, Texas Tech

Publications using CFBRC Materials
7 book/book chapters
9 Monographs/Memoirs
34 Refereed Journal Articles
2 Video Documentaries
73 Professional Presentations at Conferences