New bison installation

by Antoinette Botsford

Bison grazed in the meadows of Orcas Island 16,000 years ago. Human beings harvested, butchered and ate bison meat in a meadow near Olga 14,000 years ago. Even today, an artistic interpretation of a bison (created by George Post) grazes peacefully with living sheep at Fowler’s Corner on Orcas Island. Come to the Fourth of July Community Parade on July 2 to meet Post’s bison “Bernie”!

Some of the most complete skeletal remains of prehistoric bison ever discovered were unearthed in 2003 in an excavation in Olga. The bones, which were carefully gathered and brought to the Burke Museum at the University of Washington for evaluation, were carbon-dated at the University of California, Irvine and said to be about 14,000 years old. Archeological staff identified a large male bison, with the head almost completely intact, a smaller male, and one other. Some of the bones bore evidence of butchering with stone tools.

At this point, the bones were returned to the Orcas Island Historical Museum. Facsimiles were made to display, and the originals were safely stored.

A new installation featuring the bison presence and the significance of these particular bones will become part of the museum’s permanent exhibit, and open to the public in later July (date TBD), announced Museum Executive Director Nancy Stillger. Key sponsors for the exhibit include the Humanities Washington, Orcas Island Community Foundation, Island Hardware, Orcas Island Food Co-op, San Juan County Lodging Tax Funds, Bond Lumber (Andrew Stephens), Tony and Nancy Ayer, Antoinette Botsford and Vance Stephens. The new exhibit has been designed by Chris Erlich and is being realized by museum staff, numerous volunteers, and local craftspeople.

“The significance of this discovery cannot be underestimated,” said Carol Kulminski, President of the Museum’s Board of Directors. “Nowhere else has such a complete skeleton been found. The evidence of human presence shows that people were here long before the Clovis-first model.”

“This discovery helps validate Indigenous tales of antiquity,” added Antoinette Botsford, exhibit chair.

Come to the Fourth of July Community Parade on July 2 to meet Post’s bison “Bernie” and learn more about the upcoming exhibit.