Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Jean L Hudson

Committee Members

Dawn Scher Thomae, Patricia B Richards


Archaeology, Elk, Great Lakes, Rock art, Wisconsin, Zooarchaeology


This thesis examines the relationship between humans and elk (Cervus canadensis) in the western Great Lakes region from prehistoric through early historic times, with a focus on Wisconsin archaeological sites. It takes a social zooarchaeological perspective, drawing from archaeological, ecological, biological, historical, and ethnographic sources. I also use optimal foraging theory to examine subsistence-related decisions. Based on my review of 34 Wisconsin archaeological sites or site components, elk diminished in relative dietary importance in prehistoric times as subsistence strategies shifted. The use of their bones, especially scapulae and antlers, in tool production increased. Other roles, as markers of group and personal identity, holders of spiritual power, images to invoke magic or provide instruction, and figures in stories, are less straightforward to track over time but no less relevant. Modern human-elk relationships can be enriched by a greater understanding of the past, especially through museums and other forms of public education.