BROWNING — A vast former hunting complex where bison were stampeded over a cliff at least 1,000 years ago has been uncovered on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana, archaeologists say.
Researchers said the 9-mile-long area contains a well-preserved “drive-line” system used to funnel bison to their deaths, along with bison bones and the remnants of campsites with hundreds of tepee rings.
Maria Nieves Zedeno, an archaeologist from the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology and Bureau of Applied Research, said it is one of the best-preserved drive-line systems she has seen.
“We really need to preserve this site for future generations,” Zedeno said.
The site is on a remote plateau overlooking the Two Medicine River, on land owned by the Blackfeet Tribe. Researchers said it could become one of the most significant and largest Blackfeet heritage sites in the region.
Plains Indians harvested bison hundreds of years ago by stampeding them over cliffs, and other jump sites, as they’re called, exist in the region.
John Murray, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, said the new site will help tribal members understand their history. He said officials hope to one day build an interpretive center at the site.
“The project is important to connect the culture and heritage,” Murray said.
Researchers said that besides the bison kill site, they have been uncovering artifacts with social and religious significance, including a camp site with 651 tepee rings.
Murray said some Blackfeet members have known about the site for some time, and that increasing oil and gas exploration on the reservation has prompted a push toward preserving cultural sites.
Zedeno said similar kill sites on the reservation have been destroyed by bone collectors, and other kill sites are either damaged or on private land.
At the most recent site, much of the excavation work has been going on at the base of the 30-foot cliff the bison were driven over. Another dig is taking place about 20 feet away that’s thought to be a processing area.
Bison scapulas have been found lined up in an intentional manner, but archaeologists are unsure of the significance.