Shenandoah Hills Store – The Bison Story
Bison can be traced back to the Ice Age. Back then they were called Steppe bison, and they ranged over major parts of northern Europe, Asia and North America. They were, for the most part, larger than today’s bison; mostly to prevent heat loss.
There was little difference between the Steppe bison of Europe/Asia and the bison of North America, but by today’s standards, they were huge. Males had horn spreads reaching more than 6 feet and were as much as 40% larger than today. Also, the vertebral spines in the hump were much longer. Clues have come from frozen mummies found in Alaska and Siberia, others were preserved in the permafrost of the Arctic. Along with size and form, the mummified remains showed patterns of hair distribution, color differences, diet and disease and in some cases, cause of death.
Scientists who study bison and the Ice Age period have noted that as early as 50,000 years ago, a decline had started in the body size and horn cores due to the changing environmental conditions. They were beginning to look more like our bison of today.
After the Ice Age, bison ranged from Alaska to at least the northern tier of Mexican states and from New England to the West Coast, however they were not evenly distributed. They tended to concentrate and thrive west of the Mississippi where the prairie grasses were abundant.
It was not until 1852 that scientists tried to figure the relationship between living and extinct bison. They found that because of different plants and environment the European bison were not like the American bison. After 1947, scientists had defined 27 species and subspecies of extinct and living bison in North America. Zoologists however have taken it further and decided that there is really only primary specie that evolved varying but a number of factors; region, food, etc.