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Silver Beach Elk

 

Silver Beach Elk Update by Dave Thorson – March 3, 2008.

 

 

During the summer of 2005 elk antlers and bones were discovered in Middle Eau Claire Lake. This was significant as the last wild elk in Wisconsin was killed in 1886, 120 years ago. In addition to the elk remains, a stone spearhead was found near the elk. This find launched an effort to learn more about this unusual discovery here in Barnes.

• DNR biologist Matt McKay, project leader of the Clam Lake Elk Reintroduction Project was contacted and he verified that the find was indeed elk remains and that the animal appeared to be a large individual.

• The stone spearhead is what archaeologists identify as a fluted point (grooves on the sides) and these types of spearheads are associated with a group of nomadic hunters called paleo-Indians.  This pre-historic culture is dated at from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the oldest Indian culture in North America. The point is of a type commonly referred to as a Clovis Point. Clovis is a community in New Mexico where the first such points in North America were found over a century ago. Clovis and related fluted points were used by ancient hunters to kill large ice age mega-fauna such as the wooly mammoth. This point is believed to be the only Clovis-type found in Bayfield County

• Dr. Jean Hudson, an associate professor of archaeology with the Department of Anthropology at University of WisconsinMilwaukee was contacted. Dr. Hudson’s expertise is in the study of ancient animal bones and she readily saw that this was, indeed, a very interesting discovery, worthy of further study.

• Dr. Hudson proceeded with documenting the site and acquiring the necessary permits to proceed with a study of the site. Permits were received from the Department of Natural Resources, the Office of the State Archaeologist, and the Division of Historic Preservation.

• With the fluted point association, excitement about the elk spread throughout Barnes, the region, and the archaeology community. Speculation on the possibilities for the find drew media attention and several regional and statewide newspapers, Wisconsin Public Radio, and television reports brought the discovery to the public’s attention.

• In 2006, Dr, Hudson implemented further site analysis which recovered additional remains adding to the original collection.

• She and her students studied the bones and found tool marks on some of the bones, indicating that the elk was partially butchered. Not all of the elk skeleton was found. Additional documentation and study will continue on the skeleton and the wounding and butchering marks. With the tool markings and missing bones, it is apparent that these hunters of years ago enjoyed some good meals around the cooking fire.

  The site was officially named the Silver Beach Elk after the Silver Beach Resort owned by Quentin and Helen Ruprecht, near where the elk skeleton was found. Their granddaughter Nikki found the spearhead during the initial recovery efforts.

• An obvious question on everyone’s mind was “How old is it?” Dr. Hudson suggested conducting a radio-carbon dating analysis of the bones. Funding for the analysis was raised through local contributions and the procedure conducted.

• Results from the analysis found that the bones were about 500 years of age. All concerned, because of the fluted point’s estimated age, doubted the initial results. It was suggested that the sample may have been contaminated by organic lake sediments and so a second dating analysis was conducted. The second analysis confirmed the original findings with a date of approximately 500 years ago.

• No absolute connection can be made between the elk remains and the fluted spear point. Is it happenstance that they were located near each other? Or could the hunters of 500 years ago have found and re-used such an ancient spear point? Are these discoveries part of the same story or are there two stories on the same site? We may never know.

• BAHA (Barnes Area Historical Association) is very enthused about this discovery, and even though not as old as originally thought, it is a significant and fantastic archaeologic find.

• Efforts are underway to create a local museum where the Silver Beach Elk can proudly be displayed and its story told. Lost for 500 years, BAHA hopes to bring it back to ‘life’ for visitors to see and to learn about the wildlife and native people living here at the time of Columbus.

 

Additional Resources

A Chronology of Events

Read updates by archaeolgist Jean Hudson

You can help BAHA with their effort to bring the elk to the Museum

Elk Pictures

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