This is yet another cultural site on Canada’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This site contains the ruins of a camp, bones from American bison, and several trails. It is thought to be evidence of communal hunting in the area, which existed more than 6,000 years ago. But do you know the name of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in Canada?
In Alberta, Canada, there is a UNESCO World Heritage Site called “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump,” where aboriginal people used to chase buffalo off a cliff and then carve up their remains at their camps below.
Driving Buffalos Off the Cliff
When the first people asked their Creator what they would eat, Napi, or Old Man, created images of buffalo from clay and brought them to life. According to some Blackfoot traditions, the Blackfoot confederacy includes the Piikani, Siksika, and Kainai of Alberta and the Ampskapi Piikani of Montana.
He then led the people to a rocky ledge and summoned the buffalo, which ran straight over the cliff. According to oral history and explorer records, people dressed in wolf skins spooked animals in the right direction, while others disguised in buffalo skins gently encouraged followers. Dispersed animals were thus herded towards converging rows of 5 to 10-metre-apart rock piles.
When attached to sticks and flapping ribbons, these cairns scared the cows and calves just enough to keep them bouncing off the ‘buffalo lanes’ towards a cliff edge. Over ten kilometers of stone-lined lanes radiate from the ledges at Head-Smashed-In.
Herds of 100 to 200 animals have then pushed across a seemingly innocent landscape: the sandstone cliffs are over 10 meters tall, but when viewed from above, they create the optical illusion of a prairie continuing beyond the horizon. It was too late by the time the ledge was reached. Thousands of kilograms of galloping momentum pushed the lead animals and followers into the air, like a train squealing on the brakes. (Source: National Trust Canada)
What was the Significance of the Tradition?
Archaeologists and historians have compiled statistics and dates of human use at Head-Smashed-In. Still, interpretive guides will tell you that standing on the cliffs is the only way to experience their power truly. Little Leaf, who has a degree in education from the University of Calgary, observes that this is where book learning meets real knowledge.
Visitors can listen for the crescendo of panicked grunts, imagine rolling masses of buffalo backs, and imagine the ground trembling as 400 hooves leave the earth and become weightless for a brief moment. When the dust had settled on the blood and fur, a single stampede led by a few hundred men and women could yield 80,000 kilograms of edible meat. Jack Brink, author of the multi-award winning book Imagining Head-Smashed-In – Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, said this event was the most productive food-gathering enterprise ever devised by humans during pre-contact times.
The historical, archaeological, and scientific value of the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump landscape is significant. The deep, undisturbed layers of animal bones, mostly American Bison, represent nearly 6,000 years of continuous occupation, interrupted by one long period of unexplained hunting. (Source: National Trust Canada)
Image from Parks.Canada