Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Hunter-Archaeologist Volume 57 Number 6, November/December 2004
by David M. Ewalt

Born in the 1920s in northern Wyoming, George C. Frison, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, grew up on a ranch, surrounded by cattle, sheep, game, and the people who depended on these animals for their survival. Like ancient hunter-gatherers, he stalked elk, trapped coyote, and learned to read tracks. Frison has applied this knowledge to the archaeology of early peoples throughout his distinguished career (he was named "Paleoarchaeologist of the Century" by his colleagues in 1999). In Survival by Hunting: Prehistoric Predators and Animal Prey (Berkeley: University of California Press; $34.95), he makes the case that an archaeologist ill-trained in hunting is ill-suited to speculate on hunting cultures.


Much of the book is a guide to the different game of the American West. Frison devotes entire chapters to the bison, pronghorn, and sheep, explaining the animals' behavior and the prehistoric strategies used to procure them. He reviews important archaeological sites, including Hell Gap and Agate Basin, both in Wyoming, and talks about the techniques and weapons used by ancient hunters. These scholarly discourses are broken up by real-world hunting and nature stories. Frison writes like someone who would be equally comfortable chewing the fat around a campfire or lecturing in front of a room of undergrads.

Survival by Hunting is at its most illuminating when Frison shares his personal experiences; in a typical anecdote, the story of an old rancher's ram that could climb up and over the fence surrounding its pen suggests the difficulties ancient herders would have had corralling their own sheep. Stories like this make for a fun read, but they also provide a convincing argument for knowing how to apply knowledge about animals to the archaeological past.

David M. Ewalt is the founder and editor of

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America