George Carr Frison

Sarah McCormick

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George Carr Frison was born in the small town of Worland, Wyoming on November 11, 1924. He lived a normal childhood life in Wyoming where he worked on his family ranch. He later served in World War II as a part of the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, he returned back to Wyoming where he continued to work on his family ranch for a number of years until he attended the University of Wyoming. At the University he completed a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Anthropology with honors. He then proceeded to go to the University of Michigan for 3 additional years where he completed a M.A. in 1965 and PhD degree in 1967. Within that same year he returned back to Wyoming to become Wyoming’s first State Archaeologist and was appointed as the head of the University of Wyoming’s Department of Anthropology ("Frison Institute"). He was beloved by his student and many of these students came to graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology. He was a very influential department leader and many students that graduated with these degrees choose those careers based on his positive influence in their lives. But within these years from his graduation at the University of Michigan in 1967 to 1994 George heavily participated in the excavation of bison bones from both the Paleoindian to the Protohistoric ages ("George Carr Frison").

Archaeological Work & Research

George Carr Frison was infamous for his excavation of bison bones. His research and work greatly advanced the knowledge of the Northwest Plains and shaped hunter-gatherer archaeology and more specifically prehistoric stone tools and chipped stone and bone as well as zoo archaeology. As a young kid he was always interested in Native Americans and what was left behind and his work and research definitely reflected that initial interest. Within his stone tool research he would re-sharpen the stone and the tools and analyze their differences as well as observe the effects of different raw materials against them. Within his most famous research of the Northwest Plains, he would collect hundreds of bison bones and cattle skeleton and compare them to further gather information. Already having a previous background in the concept of cattle growing up on a farm, gave him more desire and previous knowledge when developing methods to interpret seasons of bison mortality. With the hundreds of bison and cattle bone, Frison along with a group of researchers compared all the collections. The results not only benefitted the archaeology, but as well as biologists and zoologists. He gathered these results in order to determine the first ideas of bison populations and the changes in structure to understand the most effective use of the resource. His methods used within these studies were adapted all around the world and these methods resulted in better and more effective methods of studying bison bone middens. One of the sites that was excavated to gather these results was the Wardell Bone Bed that was excavated in the 1970s in Big Piney, Wyoming. There was about four tons of bones in only two field seasons unlike the previous work where only about 75% of a ton was excavated. During this excavation they were able to determine the old molds which showed the location of the traps (Eckles, David). Of course, with every excavation some problems will arise. Within this excavation of the Wardell site, there were problems with unknown individuals looting the site, as well as erosion of the site. Some people tried to take the bison skulls and got a couple chunks of it but they did not get the entire skull, so there was some vandalism that was occurring there. It was becoming a problem where there were many episodes of looting and the individuals were disturbing the artifacts and altering them. Erosion was also a problem on the Wardell site and there were many archaeologists that had to constantly check up on the status of the erosion to make sure it was not interfering with the site. In their excavation their plan was to focus on the area below the fenced kill area. In that area, underneath only a ½ meter of overburden, the bone bed was exposed. They documented and recorded all the findings and with so much bone and artifacts to account for they utilized many experienced volunteers to help them with the excavation. The majority of the bone they had recovered was bison bone, but other animals that were also taken into account included canid, antelope, and possibly a large raptor. With all the information that Frison had gathered he was about to determine the season of use and was calculated by the minimum number of individuals that would be present within the bone bed as his primary data. Even after all the excavation is done, there will still need to be many year to analyze all the bone that they collected on the site. Along with the research he did on the Wardell site, he also spent a lot of time analyzing mammoth bones during the prehistoric time (Drucker, Sam).

Along with the bone excavation Frison did on the Wardell site, he also did much of his stone tool research where he and a group of archaeologists and volunteers collected many points of interest and analyzed them. 28 different points were excavated over the summer on the Wardell site. Frison concluded that most of them were made out of obsidian and these findings would provide data that would help determine the origin of the parent material. Most of the points he found were Avonlea points and were burned. These Avonlea points being found on the site suggests the migration of people from the north. By finding these points Frison can conclude that there was a high amount of community organization. Just by finding these points of interest they can conclude much about the migration and organization of these groups that inhabited the Upper Green River Basin. Most of the tools and the points that were found on this side were made out of local quartzite. They used screening to find a lot of these points in the dirt that ranged from size to shape. The smallest point being 12 mm to the longest and more typical Avonlea point which is about 38 mm long. (Drucker, Sam). Many volunteers also spent countless hours to help clean and analyze the faunal material from the Wyoming Archaeological Society. With all the artifacts that were found on the Wardell site, it is now under consideration for nomination by the National Park Service to be a National Historic Landmark Program. Frison directed and lead many archaeological projects in many other areas across the Plains and even after his work was over, he continued to consult with museums and other handlers of his work within the Rocky Mountain region to make sure that his work is accessible to everyone. He also did a lot of work on Mammoth that brought him to places such as Africa and the Soviet Union. So even after the research, excavation, and analysis is over, he continues to take pride in his work and make sure it is top quality information. (Drucker, Sam).

Major Contributions

George Carr Frison dedicated 4 decades of work to archaeology, not only to provide his research but to also teach and give guidance to those who want to follow in his footsteps. Wrote and contributed to 10 major books as well as presented over 60 scientific papers and wrote and edited over 70 publications. His research greatly improved and changed the entire field of archaeology in his studies of the North American High Plains, and the Rocky Mountain archaeology and culture. He even taught and dedicated his time to teaching others to follow in his footsteps at the University of Wyoming where he taught many students. He built up library information and research documents with all of his work about ancient hunters and the Paleoindian cultures in the prehistoric from more than 11,000 years ago ("The Wyoming Library"). And served on multiple boards and dedicated much of his time to his societies and memberships he belonged to. He also built the University of Wyoming Anthropology program more than anyone could have hoped for from 2 faculty membership undergraduate program to a highly sought after PhD program. His contributions to society and more importantly the archaeological field was no less than inspiring which led him to receive the Society for American Archaeology Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2005. There are even archaeological expressions that were inspired on him, this would include the expression the “Frison effect”, which was how stone tools are shaped and how they change shape based on the material one rubs against them to reshape and resharpen. His effects on this field will forever be inspiring to others and his contributions will forever be remembered and strived for ("Frison Institute").


George Carr Frison was a member and activist in many different committees and was on the board of many associations. He was truly an inspiration and a role model for many young archaeologists who strived to do well within the archaeological field. One of his first societies he joined was the Wyoming Archaeological Society where he finally began his serious journey on the path to become an active archaeologist. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences which only a few archaeologists are given the honor to be a part of. Other organizations that he was included in would be his election onto the Board of the Plains Anthropological Society in 1972 where he was president elect in the year 1974 (Frison, George). . He was also the president elect for the Society for American Archaeology from 1981 to 1983 and president from 1983 to 1985. Other memberships would include the American Anthropological Association, the Society for American Archaeology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Quaternary Association, and the Plains Anthropological Association (Gear, Michael).


Throughout his years of work George Carr Frison has contributed to 10 major books. Contributions by either authoring, editing, co-writing, etc. Some of these books include Casper, Hanson, Agate Basin, Colby, Horner, and Mill Iron as well as the two editions of his book the Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation along with many others has granted him over 1 million dollars in research grants which gave him the ability and means to do much of his research. He authored more than 70 publications and presented over 60 scientific paper to a variety of regional, national, to international meetings. His research and findings have been huge in the scientific community and his contributions will forever be appreciated and acknowledged. His legacy and the legacy of his work will always be relevant. Even to this day, he still participates in many of the societies and organizations he was a part of continuing to provide guidance to many others (Frison, George) .


George Carr Frison made a huge impact within the archaeological field. Not only to his specific area of work, but to the overall field of archaeology. Dedicating over 4 decades of work, not only to the Plains prehistory, but also spending the time to teach others about the importance of archaeological work. Frison was one of the most influential and dedicated archaeologists of his time and his contributions will always be appreciated and acknowledged. The extraordinary quality of his research, the contributions to his field, and his devotion to teaching the next generation of archaeologists will always be remember and strived for by future generations.


"George Carr Frison." George Carr Frison. University of Wyoming, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016. George Carr Frison

"The Frison Institute." The George C. Frison Instituion of Archaeology and anthropology. University of Wyoming, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, 1991-92.

Eckles, David. "The Wyoming Archaeologist." The Wyoming Archaeologist. University of Wyoming, Oct. 2006. Web. 2 May 2016. The Wyoming Archaeologist.

Sam Drucker. "Wardell Revisited." Wardell Revisited (n.d.): n. pag. Wardell Revisited. U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. Web. 2 May 2018. "Wardell Site".

Gear, Michael, and Kathleen G Gear. "Treasures from the Ground." SpringerReference (n.d.): n. pag. Treasures from the Ground. The Wyoming Library. Web. 3 May 2016. "The Wyoming Library"

Frison, George. "1995 Plains Anthropologist." The 1995 Plains Anthropologist. Jstor, n.d. Web. 2 May 2016. "The Plains Anthropologist"

Frison, George C. Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. New York: Academic, 1978. Print. "Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains"


Image 1. George Carr Frison.