Date of Award

January 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Igor V. Ovchinnikov


The purpose of this study is to infer Northern Great Plains bison (Bison bison) paleoecology through the analysis of stable isotopes and dental calculus from bison skeletal remains. Bison used to roam in the millions throughout most of North America but today they are primarily kept in confined and isolated populations. Little is known about their ancestral ecology. The abundance of bison in the archeological record provides a unique opportunity to study their remains on a broad temporal and spatial scale. This research uses the archeological record of bison in North Dakota to study bison diet and environment from the Late Pleistocene up to modern day bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). Chapter 1 reviews the history and current status of bison in North America and introduces the paleoecological techniques used in this research. Chapter 2 compares the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen found in bison remains to temporal episodes in the climatic record to infer bison diet and potential nutritional stress. Chapter 3 studies bison tooth enamel using serial sampling methods to collect seasonal data from the stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen. Individual bison are analyzed to decipher the potential for migratory movement. Finally, Chapter 4 includes the analysis of the contents of dental calculus found on bison teeth. Microfossils are observed under light and scanning electron microscopy to supplement the isotopic data with qualitative observations. This research is possible through collaboration with the National Park Service and TRNP.