Sunday, November 16, 2008

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

So with a name like that, you just have to go visit!

The buffalo jump was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Here is a little background:

The buffalo jump was used for 5,500 years by the indigenous peoples of the plains to kill buffalo, by driving them off the 10 metre high cliff. The Blackfoot drove the buffalo from a grazing area in the Porcupine Hills about 3 kilometres west of the site to the "drive lanes," lined by hundreds of cairns (small piles of rocks spaced about 5 to 10 metres apart), then at full gallop over a cliff, breaking their legs, rendering them immobile. The cliff itself is about 300 metres long, and at its highest point drops 10 metres into the valley below. The site was in use at least 6,000 years ago, and the bone deposits are 10 metres deep. After falling off the cliff, the buffalo carcasses were processed at a nearby camp.

A picture of the cliff...

A long time ago, according to one legend, the people were driving buffalo over these sandstone cliffs. A young brave wanted to watch the buffalo tumbling past. Standing under the shelter of a ledge, as if behind a waterfall, he watched the great beasts fall. The hunt was unusually good that day and as the bodies piled up, he became trapped between the animals and the cliffs. When his people came to do the butchering, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the buffalo carcasses. Thus, they named this place "Head-Smashed-In."

An interpretive centre has been built and it is extremely well done. The tour begins with a re-enactment of the buffalo jump. It is amazing what the native hunters knew about the behaviour of the buffalo that enabled them to accomplish this feat. Every bit of the buffalo was used from the skin for tipis to the fur for clothing; meat for food and the bones for tools and utensils. Buffalo at that time were so plentiful it was believed you could hunt them forever.

The center has been built into the side of the cliff. You park in the lot and walk up to the centre and it is almost impossible to see until you are right up to it.

Jim and Patrick outside the centre...

I love these buffalo. The one on the left has an "oh dear" expression.

A depiction of the buffalo falling over the cliff...

The area where the natives once lived...

The centre also offers tipi camping and hands-on educational workshops in facets of Native American life, such as making moccasins, drums, etc.

In the photo below, you can see the dog with a "travois". This was a device made of two long poles which was strapped to the side of the dog. Moving shelters and possessions with the seasons was a way of life for the Plains Indians. For thousands of years, dogs were the only help they had in this labour.

After feeling the fur on the buffalo, it's easy to see why they had buffalo coats. They would have been very warm!

Head-Smashed-In was abandoned after contact with the Europeans in the 19th century.

It was a fascinating education in the ways of native people. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump has become known around the world as a remarkable site that teaches us about Plains Buffalo Culture.

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