Excavations are underway at a site in Manitoba, Canada, after bison bones unearthed by a student were identified as proof that farming was going on in the region
long before the arrival of Europeans.
The find was made in 2018 by Eric Olson, of the University of Manitoba, while walking along a creek some 10 miles south of Melita.
The bison shoulder blades, which were mounted on wooden shafts, are thought to have been used as gardening hoes.
Mary Malainey, an anth-ropologist at Brandon University, is leading the excavation.
She told CBC News the bones were probably used to cultivate plots of corn, maize, squash or beans.
Indigenous groups occupied the Melita site for some 200 years, from the late 1400s to possibly as late as the 1700s, said Ms Malainey.
Prior to the new discovery, the only evidence that existed that the indigenous people practised farming prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century had been uncovered at Lockport, north of Winnipeg.
The latest find, however, is more intact and provides a better understanding for researchers.
Ms Malainey said: “Arch-aeologists rely on the context of the find, not just the individual artifacts, but where they are in relation to everything else in order to create the interpretation, to tell the story of the lives of the people who formerly occupied the site.”
Archaeologists plan on using ground-penetrating radar to search for signs of the society that made and used the bone hoes.
Researchers will also collect soil cores that could capture traces of crops and other plants grown at the site.
Most indigenous people living in western Canada in the centuries before the arrival of Europeans were hunter-gatherers who mo-ved around to take advantage of seasonal resources.
The Melita site, with its evidence of farming, points towards a more permanent settlement.
Ms Malainey said was it was “very different than a lot of the other sites that we have dating to the late pre-contact period in Manitoba”.