Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
Blackfeet Reservation Dig Unearthing
1,000-Year-Old History
by Travis Coleman - Great Falls (MT) Tribune Staff Writer
credits: photos by Travis Coleman - Great Falls (MT) Tribune Staff

BROWNING — Archaeologists are teaming with Blackfeet tribal members to uncover a vast and little-known former hunting complex and bison kill site along the Two Medicine River used at least 1,000 years ago.

Researchers say the 9-mile-long project area, containing a preserved system for driving bison over a cliff, bison bones and remnants of two campsites, could become one of the largest and most significant Blackfeet heritage sites in the region.

The Two Medicine bison jump site is located in the southeastern corner of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on a remote plateau overlooking the river. Researchers, led by Dr. Maria Nieves Zedeno of the University of Arizona in Tucson, say they're eager to study how late prehistoric and later hunters — Blackfeet and others — used the land to kill bison. They also want to expand people's knowledge about this now extinct way of life.

"We really need to preserve this site for future generations," said Zedeno, an accomplished archaeologist from the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology and Bureau of Applied Research.

This project is unique in that it focuses on the land where the hunters worked, lived and engineered. It's not just and artifact excavation. The project focuses on communities that inhabited this area between AD 1050 and the 1600s.

For hundreds of years, Native Americans and other hunters in this region used bison jumps to kill herds of bison for food and hides. Typically, scouts located the herds and drove them toward the drive-lines, which were created to funnel the stampeding bison toward and over a cliff. Most of the bison were killed by the long fall, with the surviving animals killed by hunters who waited at the bottom.

One of the largest buffalo jumps in North America, the First Peoples Buffalo Jump, is located west of Great Falls near Ulm.

John Murray, the Blackfeet Tribe's historic preservation officer, said the ongoing research at the Two Medicine site will help tribal members understand their history, and integrate the tribe's creation stories with science and culture. The site is said to be near the birthplace of Blackfeet legend Kutoyuis. Murray said officials hope to build an interpretive center for this site, but that will come far in the future.

Project work, paid for by three grants totaling $300,000, ended for the year last week, but it will begin again next year. The site, which is on land owned by the Blackfeet Tribe, will be secured.

The work done over the last six weeks has been rewarding, according to the researchers. Crews are finding evidence that goes beyond just a kill site, including clues to social interaction and religious significance. Crews also found 651 tepee rings at this site, which is a large amount, Zedeno said.

She added that the site has one of the best-preserved drive-line systems she has seen. Researchers can trace activity at this site back to at least 1,000 years ago, Zedeno said.

At times using just a brush because the soil is so loose, researchers are finding well-preserved bison bones at the bottom of the 30-foot jump. Digging is taking place at the bottom of the jump, where butchering is believed to have happened, and at another processing area 20 feet to the north.

Crews also are finding tiny artifacts, such as chopping tools that probably were used by women for food and hide processing, Zedeno said. Murray said they found parts of bison bones that were used by children as toys.

Crews have discovered that the bison scapulas, or shoulder bones, were lined up in an intentional manner, but the reason for that isn't yet known.

Archaeologists are attempting to map the area and pinpoint the dates the site was used from the bison bones they have found there. They also are trying to reconstruct what happened at this site after the kill and how the Blackfeet used the landscape as a weapon.

Some Blackfeet tribal members have known about this site, but it hasn't ever been researched in this manner, Murray said. With increasing oil-and-gas exploration happening on the reservation, officials realized that ancient cultural sites needed to be identified and protected quickly.

Initial fieldwork and surveying started in the summer of 2007. Zedeno said a magnetic survey helped crews find the site. Technology also allowed crews to minimize the impact on the area and maximize the potential for data collection, Zedeno said.

Murray said there have been many interviews with elders conducted by crewmembers in connection to this project. Zedeno said the project incorporates an underrepresented constituency, the Blackfeet Tribe, into archaeological research. It also promotes a process that is scientifically sound and compatible with traditional knowledge and practices.

The area previously was heavily grazed by cattle, eroding some of the land, so the project is as much about preserving the area as anything else. Bone collectors destroyed other similar kill sites on the reservation or west of this area. Additional sites are on private land or are damaged, Zedeno said.

The site also offers a great learning opportunity for tribal youth, from the Blackfeet and other tribes in Montana and Wyoming, who work with the paid crew as trainees. They learn to excavate, take measurements, map and illustrate findings, among other skills.

Crew leaders tried to recruit helpers from among the people who live along the Two Medicine River to get them interested about the history of their home, Zedeno said.

"The project is important to connect the culture and heritage," Murray said.

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 of Vicki Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!