World Heritage: Canada

Alberta


Picture of of Head-Smashed-In cliff, the plainon the right  and the sky viewed from the Interpretive Center.
Painting by Bernard Pelletier
© Parks Canada, Bernard Pelletier

For thousands of years, the bison provided the Aboriginal peoples of North America's Great Plains with many of life's requirements — meat for food, hides for clothing and shelter, sinew, bone and horn for tools, and dung for fires. The principal means of killing large numbers of bison was the buffalo jump, where herds were stampeded over cliffs and butchered at the bottom. Buffalo jumps were common on the northern Plains. But the biggest, oldest and best-preserved buffalo jump in North America is the Head-Smashed-In (or estipah-skikikini-kots in Blackfoot) Buffalo Jump in the Porcupine Hills of southwestern Alberta.

Countless thousands of bison were herded over the edge of the 10- to 18-metre-high cliffs, beginning perhaps 5,700 years ago and continuing until the middle of the 19th century. At the base of the cliff today are skeletal remains, in some places 11 metres deep. Close by is the site of the butchering camp, a kilometre-wide expanse pocked with the remnants of meat caches and cooking pits, and itself underlain with up to a metre of butchered bison bones. The area on top of the cliff was (and still is) a wide reach of prime grazing range. A system of more than 500 stone cairns, at which people built fires or waved blankets, begins 10 kilometres west of the cliff. The cairns helped direct the bison into drive lanes approaching the precipice.

More information

Province of Alberta Web site:
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

World Heritage Centre Web page:
World Heritage - Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump



More Images

View from the top of the cliff of the plaine to the right which looks limitless. View of the plain from the top of the cliff
© Parks Canada
Picture of a close view of the cliff. The Cliff
© Parks Canada
A pile of numerous bison skulls shown in the Interpretive Centre. Buffalo skulls
© Parks Canada
Drawing explaning how the hunting was conducted from the gathering basin, the drive lines, the kill site to the campsite and the processing of remains of the bisons. Anatomy of the site
© Head-Smashed-In Interpretive Centre