Earlier this year, ISAS received some photos the submitter believed were from a bison. The bones in all of these photos are actually from a horse. Steve Kuehn, an ISAS zooarchaeologist, notes two elements show distinct traits that separate horses from bison and cattle. The first is a distinct trochanter, a large, rounded projection that connects muscle to bone, on the femur shaft, like in the photo above.
The next clue is the number of metapodials, which are the long bones of the hand (metacarpals) and feet (metatarsals) that connect the digits to the lower leg bones. In humans, five are present in each hand and foot. The metapodials in the photos above show an articulation facet for a single toe bone, but bison are two-toed.
According to Kuehn, no obvious bison/cattle bones were observed, and all the bones appear to be from an individual animal. It is safely assumed that all of the bones are from a single, adult horse burial. Unfortunately, there is no way to date the bones from visual inspection alone.
While these differences are plain to a trained zooarchaeologist, they are understandably not apparent to a layperson! If you have questions about an artifact, you can Ask an Archaeologist using our short online form. If you have an extensive collection of artifacts from known locations and would like more information about these items, or would like to help contribute to the archaeological record of Illinois, please contact a staff member to discuss documenting your collection.