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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Elk Antlers

February 23, 2017

Elk antlerIn the spring of 2001, Rich Nascak was fishing for walleyes in the Mississippi River near Winona. At one point he pulled up his boat anchor and found what he first believed to by brush hooked to the anchor. He soon realized he has a set of Eastern elk antlers still attached to a partial skull. Jim Theler received a call on this find and during a visit with Rich, he generously donated the antlers to MVAC.

The Eastern elk is considered an extinct elk subspecies, and was a common sight along this portion of the Mississippi River in early historic times; last seen in Wisconsin in the 1860s or early 1870s. The Eastern elk differs in small ways from the well known Rocky Mountain elk of the western Great Plains and Rockies, now being introduced to Wisconsin. While there are many possible ways these antlers may have gotten in the river, it was common for elk, deer, and bison to fall through the ice during the winter and drown. It is presumed that in the distant past and the antlers-skull became buried in river sediment, perhaps uncovered by a flooding event and recovered soon after by Rick’s anchor. The clusters of “bumps”seen on the antlers in this photo are the invasive zebra mussel.

(Entry by Dr. James Theler)