The abyss of the bison who fell to death (Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump) lies in the province of Alberta at the transition from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. It is an impressive reminder of the millennia-old hunting method used by the Indians, who drove the bison around 20 m down here. It is one of the oldest and best preserved hunting grounds in North America.
Abyss of the fallen bison: facts
|Official title:||Abyss of the fallen bison (“Head Smashed-in Bison Jump”)|
|Cultural monument:||Head smashed-in – “estipa-skikiini-kots” in the language of the Blackfoot – Buffalo Jump Complex, a steep slope about 10-18 m high and 100 m long as a natural “slaughter”, skeletal deposits of up to 11 m at the foot of the steep slope, at the beginning of a so-called »Treibweg« marked with more than 500 stones, place today the focus of cultural recollection of the Blackfoot Indians (»Blackfoot«)|
|Location:||Porcupine Hills, northeast of Pincher Creek|
|Meaning:||The oldest and best-preserved evidence of an ancient, communal bison hunt using so-called bison falls|
Abyss of the fallen bison: story
|probably around 8000 BC Chr.||first settlement probably as early as 5400 BC BC, but certainly around 3500 BC First communal driven hunts and use of the steep slope by prairie Indians, finds of fossils and artifacts from this period exist|
|1797||Six week visit from Peter Fidler, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader, who witnessed a bison fall of 250 bison|
|1850||probably the end of the traditional bison hunt|
|1874||Beginning of European settlement|
|1881||Prairie bonson herds reduced to around 1000 animals|
|1938||first archaeological investigations|
|1968||Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Complex declared a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada|
Where the buffalo jump to their death
Indian legends tell of a young man who, at the foot of a steep drop, watches a marrow and bone-shaking spectacle up close. Like a waterfall, panting, puffing, roaring bisons plunge into the abyss around him, hundreds of them lose their lives in this way. Tons of bodies accumulate at the foot of the cliffs and ultimately become the boy’s undoing. His tribal brothers find him with his skull smashed between rocks and bison bodies.
According to philosophynearby, with one of the oldest, largest and best preserved “bison falls” in North America and a modern museum, the Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump in the Canadian province of Alberta documents the history of bison hunting up to modern times. From ancient times, the bison were the guarantee of survival on the prairie. The meat that was hunted was first dried and ground before being mixed with fat and flavor-enhancing berries to make pemmican, the Indian dried meat. The fur was needed to make clothes and tepees, the dwellings of the prairie dwellers; the tendons served as ropes and threads. Bones and hooves were made into glue and tools.
A few thousand years ago, the ancestors of today’s Blackfoot developed an ingenious bison hunting technique with which they drove the mighty animals over an abyss into the great tribal association and killed them without a bow and arrow. First men, wrapped in bison skins, steered the vast herd in the desired direction, then pulled a cauldron closer and closer together until the colossi of the prairie were densely packed towards steep slopes. In order not to let the animals to be captured break out, an up to eight kilometer long drift path with hundreds of “stone men” had been laid out. In their protection, the hunters tried to get escaping animals back on the right course by shouting and waving. When the herd approached the precipice with a snort and noisy hooves, the bison at the end of the advancing herd were driven by noise and panicked. The shaggy fellows then raced blindly into their doom with impetuous force.
How many bison ended up in the natural slaughter was entirely a matter of chance. And although often more animals lost their lives than could be processed, the “Buffalo Jumps” never endangered the population of the bison. The prairie Indians, however, who found their livelihood with difficulty in the barren dry vegetation of the Porcupine Hills, reveled in abundance for days after successful bison hunt. During archaeological investigations on the “Bison Fall”, a layer of earth made up of bones and remains of bison eleven meters thick was discovered on the slope – evidence of a long-abandoned hunting technique.
Imports from Europe gradually put an end to the archaic hunting technique. Spanish riding horses, which spread northward from Mexico, fundamentally changed the Indian social structure. In the middle of the 18th century, the Canadian Indian tribes were also mounted and, thanks to the mobility they gained, were able to quickly dismantle their tent camps and transport them for miles. They switched from organized hunting in large tribal communities with a sophisticated division of tasks to hunting in small groups. At the end of the 19th century, bison hunting was finally over for the natives of the New World. After a brutal hunt for extermination, the white new settlers left only 1,000 of the around 60 million bison that grazed on the prairies of the continent four centuries earlier when they arrived.