The kill site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, looking north
© Government of Alberta

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta

Aerial view of visitor centre, cliff, and grassy landscape. Panoramic shot of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
© Government of Alberta
Visitors walking across brown grassy plain. Tour group heading to the cairns at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
© Government of Alberta

Date of Inscription: 1981

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee under the following criterion:

Criterion (vi): Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest, most extensive, and best preserved sites that illustrate communal hunting techniques and the way of life of Plains people who, for more than five millennia, subsisted on the vast herds of bison that existed in North America.

Description

For thousands of years, the bison provided the Aboriginal peoples of North America's Great Plains with many of life's requirements - meat for food, hides for clothing and shelter, sinew, bone and horn for tools, and dung for fires. The principal means of killing large numbers of bison was the buffalo jump, where herds were stampeded over cliffs and butchered at the bottom. Buffalo jumps were common on the northern Plains. But the biggest, oldest and best-preserved buffalo jump in North America is the Head-Smashed-In (or estipah-skikikini-kots in Blackfoot) Buffalo Jump in the Porcupine Hills of southwestern Alberta.

Countless thousands of bison were herded over the edge of the 10- to 18-metre-high cliffs, beginning perhaps 5,700 years ago and continuing until the middle of the 19th century. At the base of the cliff today are skeletal remains, in some places 11 metres deep. Close by is the site of the butchering camp, a kilometre-wide expanse pocked with the remnants of meat caches and cooking pits, and itself underlain with up to a metre of butchered bison bones. The area on top of the cliff was (and still is) a wide reach of prime grazing range. A system of more than 500 stone cairns, at which people built fires or waved blankets, begins 10 kilometres west of the cliff. The cairns helped direct the bison into drive lanes approaching the precipice.

More Information

Province of Alberta:

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

World Heritage Centre:

World Heritage - Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump