The Early Years of Archaeology in Alberta

As the summer of 1949 approached, Boyd Wettlaufer, a Master’s student of archaeology at the University of New Mexico, was asked by his Field Director where he wanted to dig for the summer. In a 2008 interview, with Karen Giering of the Royal Alberta Museum, Wettlaufer related how the conversation with his director had transpired:  

 “Boyd,” he said. ‘I think it’s time you did a dig of your own. Where would you like to go?” And I thought of Head-Smashed-In. I said, “Well there’s a buffalo jump up in Alberta I wouldn’t mind taking a look at.” And so, he gave me a couple boxes of groceries and credit card for the gas and the two boys (William Hudgins and Donald Hartle) to help me and sent me off” [1].

Wettlaufer was familiar with the area around Fort MacLeod, having been stationed out of the nearby Royal Canadian Air force base of Pearce during the war as a flight instructor and aerial photographer. It was a member of the local historical society (Boyd and his wife Dorothy plugged their trailer into her porch for electricity [2]), who had first shown him the Read more

Blood Kettles and Buffalo Jumps: Communal Hunting on the Plains of Alberta

According to Blackfoot tradition, as Old Man traveled north he created the mountains, rivers, grass and trees. When he came to the area of the present day Porcupine Hills in southwest Alberta, he formed images of people from mud and breathed life into them. The people asked Old Man what they would eat, and so, he created images of buffalo from clay and brought them to life. He then took the people to a rocky ledge and called to the buffalo, who ran in a straight line over the cliff: “Those are your food.”

Tens of millions of buffalo once roamed the Great Plains of North America from Alberta’s grasslands down to Texas. To people of the plains, there was no more important food source. A number of ingenious methods were devised for communal (group) hunting – buffalo were lured into ambushes, corralled with fire, chased onto frozen lakes or into deep snow, and driven into elaborate traps called pis’kun by the Blackfoot (translated as ‘deep-blood kettles’). Of the hundreds of mass kill sites, perhaps none is more impressive than the buffalo jump, the most famous of which is Alberta’s Head-Smashed-In. Read more