Earthlodge Village National Historic Site of Canada

Blackfoot Crossing, Cluny, Alberta
Aerial view of the Earthlodge Village prior to the 1960 excavations. © HSMBC, Agenda Paper 1972-5, p.5.5
Aerial view of the Earthlodge Village prior to the
© HSMBC, Agenda Paper 1972-5, p.5.5
Aerial view of the Earthlodge Village prior to the 1960 excavations. © HSMBC, Agenda Paper 1972-5, p.5.5The new interpretive centre for Blackfoot Crossing and Earthlodge Village as
seen from the Earthlodge Village site itself. The centre is designed as a combination of a
tipi, with the extending wings of a drive lane. From the air it is like a flattened T © Gwyn Langemann, Parks Canada, 2007.
Address : Blackfoot Crossing, Cluny, Alberta

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1972-05-29
Dates:
  • 1740 to 1740 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Siksika peoples  (People, group)
Other Name(s):
  • Earthlodge Village  (Designation Name)
  • Cluny Fortified Village  (Plaque name)
Research Report Number: 1972-005, 1973-017, 1992-055, 1993-OB-05, 2006-CED-SDC-035, 2009-CED-SDC-050

Plaque(s)


No plaque in place, recommended location:  Blackfoot Crossing, Cluny, Alberta

The earthworks that define this unique site are one of the great archaeological enigmas of the plains. Who built such fortifications in the heart of Blackfoot territory, and why? Siksika oral tradition and pottery found at the site suggest it was built and abandoned about A.D. 1740 by Siouan-speaking people from the farming villages of the Dakotas, but there are striking differences between their earthlodges and this site. Whether they came here to trade, or to escape smallpox and European encroachment, the site they built illustrates a meeting of different cultures at Blackfoot Crossing.

Description of Historic Place

Earthlodge Village National Historic Site of Canada is a complex of earthwork features located on a grassy flat on the north bank of the Bow River near Cluny, Alberta. It consists of a semi-circular fortification ditch 250 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. The ditch, terminated on the east by an old dry channel of the Bow River, has changed shape due to erosion and flooding. Behind the ditch are a series of eleven circular “earthlodge” depressions encircling a large, central open area. The site is set entirely within the Blackfoot Crossing National Historic Site of Canada. Official recognition refers to a 30-metre perimeter surrounding the original village, as identified by the trench.

Heritage Value

Earthlodge Village was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1972 because:
this fortified village built, ca. A.D. 1740, by an unidentified people originating from the Upper Missouri River area,
is unique in Canada [2009 Research Report]

Despite its location in the heart of Blackfoot territory, Earthlodge Village was built ca. 1740 by an unidentified people, possibly coming from the middle Missouri River region in North and South Dakota. The name “Earthlodge Village” refers to the Blackfoot name for the builders of the site rather than the site’s features. The eleven depressions within the site are different in nature from the residential earthlodge dwellings found in the middle Missouri River region, built by Siouan speakers who lived in established villages often surrounded by ditches and palisades, and whose houses were large timber frame structures covered with sod or earth. In comparison, the features at Earthlodge Village are far smaller in size than the residential structures, and the wooden palisade instead ran inside the ring of depressions. Given the placement of the palisade, it is believed that the pits were not residential, but rather defensive in nature. As a fortified village, the site is the only one of its kind in Canada, and is one of only two in the North American Plains.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements relating to the heritage value of the site include: its location on a long-time meeting place within the limits of the Blackfoot Crossing National Historic Site of
Canada, near Cluny, Alberta; its setting on a grassy flat on the northern bank of the Bow River; the relation between the outer ditch and the inner depressions; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains which may be
found within the site in their original placement and extent, including hearths, pottery, small
baked clay discs; trade goods such as copper, glass and brass; stone tools including knives,
drills, grinding slabs, mauls, hammer stones, scrapers; bone tools, beads, ornaments, punches,
awls, knives, knife handles; red and yellow ochre; and faunal remains; viewscapes from the site across Bow River to Blackfoot Crossing National Historic Site of
Canada.