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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Beaver

March 16, 2017

BeaverThe bones of the American beaver are found at many archaeological sites throughout the Midwest and are fairly common at late prehistoric Oneota sites in the La Crosse area. The beaver was an occasional food item in the diet of Native peoples in historic times and in the past. The most common beaver bones from La Crosse sites are portions of the upper and lower jaws each of which once held a reddish-orange colored front tooth or incisor. These incisors were desired for use as tools, of course beavers are amazing woodworkers with their razor-sharp incisors, a fact apparent to Native peoples. The jaws of harvested beavers appear to have been saved or “curated” (thus found in larger numbers compared to other bones) and the incisors removed and used for woodworking or as other tasks. That the incisors were used as tools is indicated by grinding striations found on the business-ends of the incisors in efforts to resharpen the cutting edges. In the upper right of the photo are worked incisor fragments from La Crosse Oneota sites and in the lower right a right mandible of a beaver showing the fractured interior margin that resulted from an incisor removal. On the left is a side view of a modern beaver skull showing the incisors.

(Entry by Dr. James Theler)