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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of the largest buffalo jumps in North America, the First Peoples
Buffalo Jump, is located west of Great Falls near Ulm.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
have discovered that the bison scapulas, or shoulder bones, were
lined up in an intentional manner, but the reason for that isn't
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
project is important to connect the culture and heritage,"