U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Bison Bob, as University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers named the 12-year-old male steppe bison, was probably having a sip of water or contemplating crossing a river on Alaska’s North Slope about 40,000 years ago when his heavy hoofs began sinking into the river bank. Quicksand slowly entombed the bison, where he lay undiscovered until the summer of 2012. That’s when Pam Groves and Dan Mann discovered his skull protruding from the thawing river bank in the BLM-managed National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
Groves, a BLM seasonal employee, and Mann, a BLM volunteer at the time (both have been BLM summer employees for many of the past 15 years), were collaborating with now-retired BLM archaeologist Mike Kunz to search for skeletons or mummies of ice-age mammals such as horses, mammoths, or American lions, when they came across Bison Bob’s almost completely intact skeleton.
Careful excavation of Bison Bob’s skull took about four hours. After another three days of digging out bones still held together by ligaments and tufts of the steppe bison’s brown fur, Groves and Mann found that the only bone missing from the skeleton was the left shoulder blade.
After freeing the bison, a helicopter transported him to a North Slope BLM camp, where they placed Bison Bob in a predator-proof case and flew him to Fairbanks. This is where he now resides in a freezer with tundra-like conditions, awaiting further examination. His hair, teeth, horn sheaths, and hooves will be analyzed for isotopes that may reveal what he ate, how his diet changed, and even whether he migrated into areas like Alaska’s Brooks Mountain Range during the winter. BLM-Alaska has permitted the university researchers’ bone work for 15 years and has provided all of the logistical support, including helicopter, other air travel, and accommodations at the Inigok and Ivotuk base camps. Bison Bob will eventually be on display at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North in Fairbanks, and Groves and Mann hope to make a replica of the skeleton for the BLM to also put on display.
All photos courtesy of BLM-Alaska
|Last updated: 07-22-2016|
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