The Tumbler Ridge prehistoric bison skull – part 3

Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark


In the 1980s a prehistoric bison skull was unearthed in the gravel pit beside what is now the ninth hole of the golf course. Harry Prosser and Ed Parnell were part of the work crew, and took the lead in securing, preserving and reporting the find, until a team from Simon Fraser came to retrieve it. It formed the subject of a Master’s thesis, and initial radiocarbon dating came up with an approximate age of 12,000 years.

In the summer of 2014 we made contact with Dr Jonathan Driver, Professor of Archaeology at SFU. Thirty years had elapsed since the discovery, and the bison skull was now in his possession. The moment we informed him of the Geopark initiative and the Tumbler Ridge Museum projects, he generously agreed to donate it to the Tumbler Ridge Museum, and the skull was repatriated in September 2014.

But first he sent a small sample to researchers at the University of Alberta. Radiocarbon dating techniques have advanced since the 1980s, and a more accurate date was desirable. Such a date would also be useful for interpreting our Ice Age history in Tumbler Ridge, where our upper bench, middle bench and lower bench were formed by successive terraces as a great glacial lake receded.

The results from U of A are now in, following analysis done by Dr Jack Ives, Professor of Northern Plains Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology. It can now be stated with confidence that the Tumbler Ridge bison died about 12,400 years ago, give or take 40 years.

There is one further piece of information outstanding. Another small bone sample was sent to a lab in the USA, in case DNA analysis is feasible. There are two candidate bison species, and the DNA, if present, would establish with certainty to which species the Tumbler Ridge bison belongs.

This new information will form part of the text interpreting the bison skull in the Ice Age exhibit that will be opened in the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery early in 2015. At this ceremony First Nations will be invited to officially bless the skull and welcome it back to Tumbler Ridge. This will provide yet another reason for Tumbler Ridge, the Museum, and the Global Geopark to celebrate.