Thanks to their careful understanding of topography and bison behavior, Native American hunters killed the beasts by chasing them over this precipice near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for nearly 6,000 years. (It was abandoned in the 19th century after European contact.) After driving the buffalo off the edge, the hunters would then climb down to the camp below and carve up their carcasses for use in all manner of daily life.
The Blackfoot drove buffalo from a grazing area in the Porcupine Hills more than a mile and a half from the jump through carefully constructed lanes that directed the animals to the cliff. At more than 30 feet, the cliff was high enough to break the animals’ legs upon impact.
The site was used as a buffalo jump for so long that bones have been discovered nearly 40 feet underground. One estimated suggests that more than 120,000 buffalo were slaughtered at Head-Smashed-In over the years.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for its testimony of prehistoric life and the customs of aboriginal people, the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is also home to a museum that celebrates Blackfoot culture.
The Interpretive Centre at Head-Smashed-In opened in 1987, built directly into the ancient sandstone cliff. In addition to showcasing the mythology, lifestyle, ecology, and technology of Blackfoot peoples, it offers hands-on educational workshops in moccasin making, drum construction, and more. Visitors can enjoy demonstrations of traditional drumming and dancing every Wednesday in the summer.
Know Before You Go
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located 18 km northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada on Highway 785.