Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump: Canada's UNESCO World Heritage Site

A buffalo jump northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home of a museum of Blackfoot culture.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is an archeological site found at the foothill of the Rocky Mountain in Alberta, Canada. The site is listed as a heritage site and also houses an interpretive center and museum which highlights the history and culture of the Blackfoot nation. The development of the site was promoted by Joe Crowshoe Sr who was a ceremonial elder of the Piikani Nation. He dedicated his life to the preservation of the Aboriginal culture and strengthened the relationship between the natives and the non-natives managing to save the knowledge and the practice of the Blackfoot nation. The site was inscribed as a world heritage site in 1981 placing it among other world monuments.


Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump preserves the history of the Plain People. It was used for 6,000 years by the residents to hunt and kill buffalos by driving them off the cliff which was about 35 foot high. The Blackfoot people skillfully drove the buffalos from the grazing area on Porcupine Hill which is about 1.9 miles from the site. The buffalo runners were trained in animal behavior and were able to guide the buffalos to the driving lane. The buffalos would then fall from the height due to the large herd pressing behind them and break their legs in the process. The fall would render them immobile and non-defensive making it easy for the hunters to capture them. The hunters would then curve the carcasses and drag the animal to be butchered and processed in the sites that were set up on the flat beyond the cliff. Every bit of the buffalo was used for survival for the Blackfoot peoples.

The camps had everything needed for the butchering and processing of the buffalos. The bones deposited over the years when the site was in operation are 39-foot deep. The carcasses were used for different purposes including making tools from bones and tents and clothing from the hide. The site was abandoned in the 19th century upon the arrival of the Europeans and was excavated in 1938 by the American Museum of Natural History. The site was listed as National Historic Site in 1968.

The name of the site derives from a Blackfoot legend that says a young Blackfoot man went to the foot of the cliff to watch the buffalo plunge. He was buried underneath the incoming buffalo with his head smashed in, hence the name.

The Interpretive Center And Museum

An interpretive center was opened at the site in 1987. The center is built into the ancient sandstone cliff in its natural style and fashion. The interpretive center contains five distinct levels which highlight the Blackfoot’s lifestyle, technology, and ecology. The site hosts some special events and native festivals every year. These festivals are popular throughout the world for their authenticity and energy. Some of the events include Christmas which is known as the Heritage Through My Hand which is characterized by the display of a variety of crafts, clothing, and jewelry. A permanent exhibition has been established at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump dubbed “Lost Identities” which was launched in 1999. Other attractions at the site include drumming and dance demonstration which takes place every Wednesday from July to August between 1100hrs and 1330 hrs. Photographs depicting the life and history of the Aboriginal people are also on display at the museum.

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