Fort Ancient deer use

This project explored the complex relationships between climate change, white-tailed deer populations, and human behavior in prehistoric southwest Ohio. The project began as a senior honors thesis at The Ohio State University under the supervision of Dr. Robert A. Cook and was ultimately expanded, refined, and published in the journal Environmental Archaeology.

Deppen, Jacob and Robert A. Cook (2014). Deer use in good times and in bad: A Fort Ancient case study from southwest Ohio. Environmental Archaeology, 19(1):72-83.


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) utilisation before and during increased moisture variability and pronounced drought conditions during the late prehistory of southwestern Ohio is examined to assess the fit with the expectations of foraging efficiency models. The focus is on three Fort Ancient sites in the upper portion of the Great Miami River, including SunWatch, a large village located in present-day Dayton, Ohio. SunWatch was occupied during the Late Prehistoric era in the region. The earlier uses (AD 1150–1300) occurred during optimal moisture conditions. The later uses (AD 1300–1450) occurred within the context of increased droughts and extreme moisture variability. To address questions related to changing deer utilisation in response to drought, deer remains are examined temporally for the SunWatch site and two smaller Fort Ancient sites in the region (Wegerzyn and Wildcat). Results from this preliminary and exploratory study indicate that through time, deer body size is stable or decreases, juvenile deer became more abundant in the hunted assemblages, and human butchering strategies became less selective. These support the conclusion that environmental stress on the deer population led to a change in the deer population and influenced the way humans used deer.