The History of Research at Hudson-Meng

Chadron State College.The bison bonebed was first exposed in the 1950s during the construction of a pond by local rancher Albert Meng. Later, excavations were conducted at the site from 1971-1977 by Larry Agenbroad of Chadron State College. Agenbroad‘s investigations discovered the remains of some 120-125 bison directly associated with Paleoindian-aged Alberta projectile points. The bonebed was dated to about 9,820 Radiocarbon Years Before the Present (RCYBP) and was the first Alberta site to ever be directly dated.


During the excavations, Agenbroad noted several important observations:

1) the bonebed topography dips slightly to the north and somewhat to the west

2) a random orientation of the bones

3) bison skulls are heavily underrepresented

4) the seasonality of death was in mid-fall

5) there are six burned areas that have bone dispersed outward from them (i.e., in a radial pattern) and five clusters of artifacts representing various stone materials


Based primarily on these observations, Agenbroad believed that over 10,000 years ago the Alberta hunters killed a herd of bison by driving them over the edge of a steep cliff into a stream meander bend that was carved out by a local spring. The people rough butchered the bison at the base of the cliff where they died and conducted final butchering nearby at the bonebed.


Colorado State University and University of Wyoming.From 1991 to 1996, 1998, and 2002 archaeological research at Hudson-Meng was directed by Larry Todd (CSU) and Dave Rapson (UW). During these investigations, the bonebed was radiocarbon dated to between 10,030 and 9,570 RCYBP. Todd and Rapson sought to understand the Hudson-Meng site from the taphonomic processes that occurred there and affected the deposit. Taphonomy is the study of the processes that operate on organic remains after death to form fossil deposits. In archaeological sites, these processes usually occur after people abandon the site.


Some of the taphonomic processes at the Hudson-Meng site include: the effects of natural elements (e.g., sun, rain, heat, cold, plants); the activities of scavengers; trampling of the bonebed by later animals; natural fires; and the effects of rodents.


Todd and Rapson carefully documented thousands of pieces of bone and over 150 artifacts, including one Alberta point.  Todd and Rapson‘s conclusions differed from Agenbroad‘s conclusions regarding how the bison bonebed came to look as it does today.  Those conclusions were based on the following:


1) the bonebed is the actual location of death

2) there is little direct evidence of butchery or bone modification

3) the seasonality of death is mid-late summer

4) the lack of bison skulls is probably due to weathering and erosion

5) based on the average elevation of bones and artifacts in the CSU/UW excavation areas, there are two main ―bonebed deposits


Todd and Rapson concluded that the bison died naturally from a yet unidentified cause and that humans then occupied the area around the death site at a later time.  Finally, the CSU/UW excavations also documented additional archaeological occupations above the bonebed that include Early Archaic, Late Archaic, and Late Prehistoric cultures.


PaleoCultural Research Group. During the summer of 2005, PaleoCultural Research Group (PCRG) initiated test excavations with the assistance of the University of Colorado archaeological field school at the Hudson-Meng site.


St. Cloud State UniversityIn 2006, Dr. Mark Muñiz began research at Hudson-Meng and the USFS has designated him the site‘s principal investigator for archaeological research. Dr. Muñiz has conducted research at the site since 2006, spending the summer of 2009 in the lab analyzing data and processing field samples. The 2010 field season marks the beginning of another three-year cycle of excavation at the site. The cumulative results of this research have made major contributions to what we currently know and several new avenues of investigation have been pursued.


In brief, some the most important new information that we have learned since 2006 is that: there are 3-4 cultural components stacked vertically over about 20 cm in the main bonebed area; an Eden component (radiocarbon dated to ~9500 RCYBP) overlies the Alberta component that is associated with the main mass of bison bone; a new activity area to the southeast of the main bonebed contains evidence of stone tool manufacture (e.g., cores and flakes) and possibly also subtle post molds indicating some type of built structure; and residue analysis has identified blood proteins from three different species on several tools from the Eden component.


As part of this continuing research, emphasis is placed upon geoarchaeological investigative techniques that pay special attention to natural site formation processes. Second, a strong emphasis is also placed on the role of public outreach that occurs at Hudson-Meng. Given that the site is owned and managed by the US Forest Service, it is important that the public be able to enjoy this very special historic resource.


Coming from as far as Russia and Japan, scientists visit Hudson-Meng to better understand Paleoindian archeology, bonebed formation processes, environmental changes over time, and a host of other topics that can be investigated at this rich outdoor laboratory.