Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located in the Porcupine Hills, 18 km northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta.
It is believed the jump was first used by Blackfoot peoples some
5,700 years ago and as recently as the early 1800's.
The jump itself is a sandstone cliff approximately 11 metres
high, with a deposit of bones at its base that is some 12 metres
deep. The jump is important for
two reasons-it offers a spectacular view of the surrounding plains
and, as an archaeological site, it was left relatively undisturbed by bone collectors. Designated as a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1981,
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of 11 sites so designated in Canada.
This acknowledges it status alongside such places as the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge.
The involvement and leadership of native people in the
development of the site's interpretive centre was crucial. People
from the nearby Piikani community were part of the initial
archaeological dig on the site in the late 1960s. As well,
Blackfoot peoples shaped the exhibits, decided how their stories
should be told and continue to work and interpret at the site. In
fact, out of respect for the moral ownership of the site, tours
are given only by Blackfoot speakers. Opened in 1987, the
Interpretive Centre is partly built below ground level, fitting
with the natural setting. The interior is made of seven distinct levels depicting the ecology, mythology, lifestyle and technology of Blackfoot peoples.
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 direct them to the cliffs. The Head-Smashed-In site is composed of four distinct components:
the gathering basin, the drive lanes, the cliff kill site and the processing
area. Each of these areas has different archaeological remains.
A large drainage basin measuring 40 square km lies west of the cliff. This natural grazing area has plenty of water and mixed grasses
that remain fresh well into the fall. This natural grazing area attracted herds of buffalo.
Long lines of stone piles were built to help the hunters direct the buffalo to the cliff. Many of these small piles of stones can still be seen marking the drive lanes that extend more than
14 kilometres into the gathering basin. These piles may have served as simple
markers or they may have supported sticks or brush to hide the hunters.
The sandstone cliff just north of the interpretive centre was the actual jump site. This cliff is just one of several locations along the end of the Porcupine Hills. The cliffs, which were used as buffalo jumps, included the Calderwood jump. This cliff is visible one
kilometre north of Head-Smashed-In.
Artifacts found in the kill site include bone, worn or broken stone tools and re-sharpening flakes, thousands of stone points, dart points and arrowheads.
There is a flat area immediately below the kill site. This was where the hunters camped while they butchered and prepared the buffalo. Stones that were used to support and anchor the
tipis can still be seen on the prairie level.
Each year, Head-Smashed-In hosts a number of special events, native
festivals and a special Christmas celebration. The Christmas festival brings together native artists and craftspeople who display a wide variety of jewelry, clothing, art and crafts.
While visiting, guests are encouraged to visit the interpretive
centre, where there is a wealth of information on the Blackfoot people's customs, traditions and lifeways.