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Fascinating Places

Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, Alberta

Sketch by John Mix Stanley showing buffalo on the plains

Source
Sketch by John Mix Stanley showing buffalo on the plains

Buffalo, or bison, were important to the Aboriginal way of life on the western plains. First Nations and Métis people used every part of the bison for such things as food, clothing, shelter, tools and fuel.

For thousands of years, Native hunters of the western plains used an extremely efficient way of hunting buffalo. They would drive entire herds of buffalo over cliffs they called buffalo jumps. It was not as simple as it sounds. Hunters needed to know all about the topography of the land and about buffalo behaviour, and had to be organized and patient. They had to find the right area and build the correct stone cairns to direct the stampeding animals to the edge of a cliff where they would fall to their deaths. Near the base of the cliff, the Aboriginal hunters would set up a temporary camp where they could skin the hides and butcher the meat.

One of the oldest, largest and best-preserved buffalo jumps can be found just northwest of Fort MacLeod in southwestern Alberta where the Rocky Mountain foothills meet the western plains.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981 and today includes an interpretive center where visitors can learn more about the importance of the buffalo and the people who depended on it.

Drawing from 1854 showing how Aboriginal peoples used drive lanes to funnel the buffalo toward the cliff

Source
Drawing from 1854 showing how Aboriginal peoples used drive lanes to funnel the buffalo toward the cliff

Photograph of the base of the main kill site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Source
Base of the main kill site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

References

"Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta." Canada World Heritage Sites. Parks Canada.
www.pc.gc.ca/progs/spm-whs/itm2-/site6_e.asp
(accessed February 23, 2005).

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
www.head-smashed-in.com
(accessed February 23, 2005).