Skip to Content

Oxbow, McKean, and the Old Copper Culture: A Discussion of Ethnicity at the Castor Creek Site

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


London (1992)


The archaeological period called the Early Middle Prehistoric II (5,000 to 3,500 B.P.) on the Northern Plains is well represented in the archaeological record. Cultural processes within that period, however, remain poorly understood. Many features appear for the first time including the presence of dogs and large scale 'ceremonial' structures (Medicine Wheels). This period also sees the end of some buffalo jumps, and the possible temporal co-existence of two cultural groups (McKean and Oxbow) in the Northern Plains. The notion of two cultures inhabiting the same region relies heavily upon morphological changes in projectile points. Those who posit that McKean and Oxbow represent two separate cultures also suggest that McKean is a derivative of a Great Basin culture, while Oxbow represents an in situ development. An alternative view, drawing on suggested similarities between die two lithic technologies, posits a mono-cultural model, wherein McKean and Oxbow represent variants within the same cultural complex. This debate is further complicated in that a few archaeological excavations (Castor Creek, Hawkwood) show McKean and Oxbow associated in the same levels. In addition to cultural remains, including Oxbow and McKean points, a thin crescent-shaped copper blade was recovered near the site, which seems to have a cultural affiliation with the Old Copper Culture of the Great Lakes region. The focus of my research project was to examine aspects of culture beyond point styles in an attempt to discover discontinuity between Oxbow and McKean 'cultures'.