Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Walter E. Klippel

Committee Members

David G. Anderson, Michael H. Logan


The evidence for bone grease processing in Wisconsin's Driftless Area is addressed. A four-fold methodology for the identification of grease production is developed. This methodology includes an examination of: (1) bone fragment size, (2) fracture patterns, (3) overall taphonomy, and (4) archaeological context. The methodology is applied to the analysis of eight Driftless Area faunal assemblages and is also used to reevaluate previous accounts of grease production. Based upon the analysis, evidence for grease manufacture is present and ubiquitous at seven Archaic/Woodland sites. Evidence for grease production is also present in five Oneota assemblages from the La Crosse area.

Grease production is interpreted through a behavioral ecology framework, with particular reference to the prey-as-patch model. This model implies that increases in carcass processing intensity are associated with reductions in kill frequencies. It is suggested that in certain circumstances, the predictions of the model maybe inaccurate. These inaccuracies are highlighted by evidence from Archaic and Woodland sites that indicates grease production was not related to lower kill rates, but instead associated with intensive fall harvests and processing white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). At this time, processing multiple animals simultaneously could have produced large quantities of grease and lowered production costs. The grease was stored for use during the spring and winter, when deer were lean and very low in fat content, and few other fat or carbohydrate sources would have been available.

Grease production on the Oneota sites occurred in a different cultural context. Here, bone grease manufacture was sporadic and associated with fall-winter seasonal indicators. This means that grease production occurred when the La Crosse area Oneota appeared to have abandoned their villages to pursue American bison (Bos bison) in the prairies of Minnesota. It is suggested that certain individuals (particularly, the young, elderly and sick) likely stayed behind. Faced with more limited hunting abilities, large mammal kills may have been uncommon. Consistent with predications of the prey-aspatch model, these individuals intensively processed the carcasses of single animals, including bone grease manufacture. Here, fat would have been a critical winter resource and used to supplement stored agricultural products.

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