Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Cultural Heritage Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Douglas MacDonald

Commitee Members

Chris Servheen, Anna Prentiss


bear worship, bear trapping, bear ritual, bear hunting


University of Montana


Archaeological evidence of prehistoric bear hunting and bear veneration in the northern Rocky Mountains and northwestern Plains is presented. Ethnographic documents and the writings of trappers, traders, and explorers are assessed in order to establish an interpretative framework to help decipher archaeological contexts in the region that include bear remains and rock art depicting bears. Examining prehistoric archaeological contexts in Montana and Wyoming within this framework suggests evidence of bear hunting and veneration similar to the regional ethnographic record. Data trends imply there may be a relationship between such sites and variables like site location, seasonality, function, and age. Contexts with bear remains were regularly located along stream corridors, and several sites showed winter occupation and hints of the ritual treatment of bear skulls and paws. An apparent increase in hunting during the Late Prehistoric Period was likely affiliated with warfare and healing. Compatible theoretical approaches are articulated in an effort to more clearly understand bear hunting and veneration in ecologic, symbolic, and utilitarian terms. Possible motivations include economic, social signaling, bear power attainment, and revenge incentives. Multiple archaeological signatures are forwarded at the conclusion that may indicate bear veneration, help identify and locate such sites, and enlighten our knowledge of specific hunting practices and potential motives.



© Copyright 2014 Michael D. Ciani