Impacts of Paleoclimatic Drought on Prehistoric Foraging Decisions in the Big Belt Mountains

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Ryerson, Layne
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Impacts of Paleoclimatic Drought on Prehistoric Foraging Decisions in the Big Belt Mountains
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Over 2,000 years ago, the indigenous people of the Big Belt Mountains appear to have been influenced by a substantial drought which dramatically altered their diet. Faunal records obtained through Carroll College’s archeological excavations indicate a shift in foraging decisions during this drought period; most notably a decreased consumption of Rocky Mountain Elk. The rationale for this change in fauna is investigated through the Diet Breadth Model (D.B.M), a logic based equation that examines past foraging activity through cost-benefit analysis. It is speculated that elk were absent during the water-stressed period, and that their admission from the faunal record meant that the only available game was smaller, R-selected species. In order to assess the validity of these assumptions, my research inspected the influences of drought on modern elk herds, specifically those with similar environmental conditions to the Big Belts. This process focused on the elk populations dynamics exhibited by Grand Tetons National Park, W.Y, and Wind Caves National Park, S.D. These regions were examined based upon their drought-induced fluctuations in herd size, cow/calf ratio, and carrying capacity. Analysis of these variables exposed a direct link between increased aridity and decreased elk availability. Moreover, these findings bolstered our hypothesis by indicating that indigenous peoples of the Big Belt did most likely adhere to the DBM during times of drought induced resource scarcity
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