October 24, 2013 | Volume 118, Issue No. 43

Ancient bison bones donated to school

Ancient bison bones that were found near Moose Lake have been donated to the Moose Lake school by the Carlton County Historical Society. The bones were found in July 1989 by Glenn Langhorst of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Former and current Moose Lake science students are very familiar with the top of a bison skull in Mr. Deering\'s room. Deering dug out the skull in eastern Montana when he was 5 or 6 years old. He had found a tip of a horn protruding from the ground, and dug out the skull with a tire iron.

Langhorst now teaches astronomy and geology at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet.

“Road construction through the old river channel has unearthed those tantalizing clues that lay hidden for centuries,” wrote Langhorst in an article that was published in the July 6, 1989, edition of the Star Gazette.

The bones had been found near the Portage River, more commonly known as Mud Creek, located east of Moose Lake along County Road 8, also known as Mud Creek Road.

“Before this important discovery, it was thought that bison, commonly known as buffalo, did not roam this far from their preferred prairie environment,” wrote Langhorst.

“Dating the bison remains will be difficult because we do not know exactly how deep they were buried. It is possible that a carbon-14 date will be taken in the future.

“The bison could have died from natural causes, although fractures on some of the bones seem to suggest predation, possibly by man. This exciting hypothesis is supported by my discovery of stone tools near the bone deposits.”

Langhorst added that archaeologists that examined the bones placed them in the Paleo-Indian period, around 7,000 to 9,000 years ago. Much more archeological work needed to be done in the area before the association of man and bison could be established.

In a recent telephone interview, Langhorst explained that he had brought the bones to experts.

“I brought them to two experts, Paul Lukins and Orrin Shane of the Science Museum of Minnesota,” he said. “They came to the same conclusion. They weren’t from the Ice Age, they were modern bison. The bison had been on the plains. The estimated age of the bones was 7,000 years ago. There were warmer and drier conditions then from what we see today. The bison followed the food sources. That is interesting because we are seeing the same conditions now. The flora and fauna (animals and plants) respond to these climates. We see bird and tree species moving north as the climate warms.”

Langhorst explained that the bones were juvenile- and adult-sized bones, and were representative of a breeding herd.

“That meant that we did have a breeding population in Carlton County, which is kinda neat,” he said.

Those weren’t the only sign of the bison that were found.

“Carl Kjarum, a nearby resident, said that he had picked up bones when they were working on building the freeway,” said Langhorst. “They built it through the Portage River valley.

“I found the bones when they were rebuilding County Road 8. They had been excavating in the black humus soil, and were dredging along the Portage River. I saw large piles of black peat material, when I drove by the construction area, and I saw something sticking out of the piles. This area means something to me; this is where I grew up. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert.”

Langhorst found the bones in the piles, and said that they were stained a dark color. He explained that the bones had been preserved because of the peat, which had kept them moist.

“Peat tends to be very low in oxygen,” he explained. “When we bring the bones out, they tend to dry out. In the reaction of the oxygen they tend to decompose.”

The dark brown color is probably from tannic acid found in the riverbed, explained Moose Lake science teacher, Tom Deering.

To preserve the bones, Langhorst coated them with a clear polyurethane, he said.

Other artifacts have been found in the area.

“A few spear points have been found within the city limits of Moose Lake,” he said. “One was Paleo-Indian. That meant that there were people in the area 9,000 years ago. That was close to the time of the glaciers, and they were close to the melt zone.”

Langhorst concluded by saying that there is enough of a kid in him yet to get excited about these kinds of discoveries. He is interested in similar discoveries in the area. Call him at (218) 389-6212 with information about arrowheads, copper tools, Indian mounds or any other artifacts.

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