Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Special Place - Fort MacLeod, AB
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member ScroogieII
N 49° 42.341 W 113° 39.209
12U E 308685 N 5509288
Quick Description: This site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1968, a Provincial Historic Resource in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Location: Alberta, Canada
Date Posted: 6/24/2020 12:19:21 PM
Waymark Code: WM12P1Y
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member bluesnote
Views: 4

Long Description:
Recognized by the Province of Alberta on June 26, 1976 as a Provincial Historic Resource, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is listed as a Special Place. For 60 centuries, the Blackfoot have used this site to harvest buffalo by running herds off the 10 metre cliff at the site, immobilizing them so they could be easily killed and butchered. Until the arrival of Europeans, the Blackfoot had no horses, so had to hunt on foot. Having a site of this nature made their hunts much easier and much more productive.

The foot of the cliff, where they butchered the buffalo, made for a perfect campsite, as it also provided fresh water, while the cliff itself provided both their food and protection from the wind.

An old Blackfoot legend tells of a young Blackfoot who wanted to watch the buffalo run off the cliff from below and was buried by the falling herd. When uncovered, the young warrior was found dead with his head smashed in.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump constitutes the finest surviving example of such sites in the northern Plains. In use since ca. 3,500 B.C., it represents the ultimate development of a unique subsistence procurement system which allowed Native Albertans to master the harsh environment of the Northwestern Plains. The complex, consisting of a gathering basin, jump-off, and campsite, is the most complete known.

Head-Smashed-In was abandoned in the 19th century after European contact. The site was first recorded by Europeans in the 1880s, and first excavated by the American Museum of Natural History in 1938.
From the Alberta Register of Historic Places
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Buffalo Jumping
  • In ancient times, Plains Native Tribes hunted the buffalo, driving herds to their death over the cliffs at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
  • Buffalo jumping is such a sophisticated hunting technique that modern science is only beginning to understand its workings.
  • A spiritual ceremony marked the beginning of the hunt in which medicine women and men would perform detailed rituals to ensure a safe and successful hunt.
  • During the ceremonies, the ‘buffalo runners’ were sent to locate and herd the animals. These were young men who possessed skill to move the bison herds.
  • Disguised under animal hides, the buffalo runners, would pass near the herds and try to attract them toward the cliffs, using their intricate knowledge and understanding of buffalo behaviour.
  • Ingenious V-shaped drive lanes were used to drive herds to the most dangerous point on the cliffs. These lanes were edged with rows of stone cairns which can still be seen today. The lanes snake their way across the countryside, following ridges, crossing coulees and rising across the tops of high hills.
  • Near the cliff area of the drive lanes, people hid behind brush stuck into the cairns and prevented the beasts from straying by shouting and waving buffalo hides. Hunters were rushed from behind, panicking the animals and forcing them into a thundering headlong plunge over the cliff. After falling, many buffaloes were only stunned or wounded. Hunters waited below the cliff to kill the surviving beasts. The Native People believed that escaping animals would warn other herds of the deadly trap.
  • The kill brought a surplus of meat to families and clans participating in the hunt. The people dried the meat, made pemmican, extracted fat from the bones, made tools, and tanned hides. Almost every part of the animal was used.
The Archaeology
  • This World Heritage Site is rich in prehistory. Bone and tool beds, nearly eleven metres thick, lie beneath the jump’s sandstone cliffs.
  • The oldest evidence of humans at Head-Smashed-In is represented by two Scottsbluff spear points, which are believed to be 9,000 years old. These points indicate the site was visited in early prehistoric times, although there is no evidence that bison were driven over the cliff by the makers of the early artefacts.
  • According to radiocarbon dating of ancient bones, the site was used as a buffalo jump 5,700 years ago – more than 500 years before the first pyramid was built in Egypt and before Stonehenge was erected in England.
  • Head-Smashed-In is just one part of a communal kill site complex which includes a network of sophisticated drive lanes used to gather herds and lure them to the cliffs.
  • The first archaeologist to investigate the site was Junius Bird of the American Museum of Natural History in 1938. Since then, the site has seen four major archaeological projects, between the late 1940s and early nineties.
  • At the bottom layer of the kill site, archaeologists have found projectiles used during the Middle Prehistoric Period. These tools are from the ‘Mummy Cave Complex’ – crude projectile points, smaller than spearheads, but too large to tip arrows. The points were attached to a dart that was thrown with an ‘atlatl’ or throwing stick.
  • During the period from about 4,000 to 3,000 years ago, the jump appears to have been abandoned. There are no tools or bone deposits directly above those attributed to the Mummy Cave Complex. Archaeologists are uncertain why the jump was not used at this time.
  • Most of the bone deposits and artifacts recovered at Head-Smashed-In come from Late Prehistoric times; that is, during the last 1,800 years.
  • The uppermost layers at Head-Smashed-In contain metal arrowheads, indicating the jump was used in early historic times. As guns and horses became common the labour-intensive buffalo jumps were soon abandoned.
  • Archaeologists have also studied sites above the cliffs. There are petroglyph, or rock carving areas, and vision quest sites where braves would go to commune with the spirits. These sites are not open to the public.
From Make Heritage Fun
Photo goes Here
Official Heritage Registry: [Web Link]

Highway 785, west off
Highway 2, north off
Highway 3, 20 km. west of Fort Macleod, AB

Heritage Registry Page Number: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
To log a visit to a Waymark in this category at least one photo of the property, taken by the visitor, must be included with the visit, as well any comments they have concerning either their visit or the site itself. Suggested inclusions are: what you like about the site, its history, any deviations from the description in the heritage listing noted by the visitor, and the overall state of repair of the site.
Search for...
Geocaching.com Google Map
Google Maps
Bing Maps
Nearest Waymarks
Nearest Western Canadian Heritage
Nearest Geocaches
Nearest Benchmarks
Create a scavenger hunt using this waymark as the center point
Recent Visits/Logs:
Date Logged Log User Rating  
T0SHEA visited Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Special Place - Fort MacLeod, AB 9/21/2020 T0SHEA visited it