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Secrets of the Valley
Interpretive Stop 1
The Secrets of the Valley
People discovered this place centuries ago – high bluffs falling to green meadows, stands of willow, unexpected river vistas and hidden coulees in a cape of windswept prairie.
Explore the place where people have returned for centuries.
See the site as they saw it – experience it as they did.
The distant barking of dogs may alert you to a ring of tipis or willow shelters in a reconstructed encampment. Active archaeological digs and interpretive sites tell you of the people, the plants and the animals that once shared Wanuskewin.
This site has signficance to the people of the First Nations. The resources are sensitive to disturbance.
Interpretive Stop 2
The people changed their shelters over the centuries to fit the land, the resources and their social structure.
The earliest shelters were probably small domed huts, framed with willow and covered by hides. This shelter did no change for thousands of years.
About 2,500 years ago, tipis replaced the domed huts. The first tipis were small enough so that dogs could carry the heavy hides and poles.
By 1800, many groups had horses to transport their tipis. Canvas obtained in trade began to replace the heavy buffalo hides. The tipis could now be larger, similar to what you will see.
Sit within each dwelling. Feel what it may have been like to live within them through all the seasons.
Interpretive Stop 3
Newo Asiniak Buffalo Jump
Newo Asiniak is Cree for “four stones”. Powerful buffalo, some weighing over a thousand kilograms, were stampeded over the cliff above you.
Where you stand, hunters once waited to kill the survivors of the fall.
The jump method used at this site is one of two methods commonly used at Wanuskewin. This cliff was used in early spring and in the fall.
At your feet, two layers of bone, called bonebeds, remain as evidence. In the upper layer, archaeologists found the stone ups and arrows of spears about 185 years old.
Dating of bone in the lower layer shows the earliest kill occurred about 1,540 years ago.
The people butchered the animals and took them to the nearby processing area in the clearing toward the creek.
Artifacts from many different time periods have been found there. Some are over 4,000 years old.
Interpretive Stop 4
Trail of the Buffalo
Over the centuries, people and animals coming to the valley left their mark on the hillside.
In summer, great numbers of bison came to the cool green valley. They drank from the creek and bathed in the mud to escape summer flies.
Follow the trail of the buffalo to the prairie above. Touch the large “rubbing stone”, worn smooth by the scratching of their coats, and imagine a herd grazing peacefully a thousand years ago.
Interpretive Stop 5
Standing here several hundred years ago, you might have come upon a gathering of tipis such as this.
Test excavations show that this site was used extensively for thousands of years.
Consider what made this an ideal winter campsite: water, wood, and shelter.
Winter was a time of storytelling in the warmth of a tipi. It was also a time of hardship. Plants and animals preserved in summer helped the people survive the long winter months.
Interpretive Stop 6
View of Opimihaw
The steepest part of the embankment across the creek is the Opimihaw buffalo jump.
Below, in the kill area and the nearby processing and habitation area, test excavations have revealed broken bone and stone tools dating back more than 2,300 years.
In the lean times of early spring, people would set off in smaller groups looking for food. Later in the year, they would join other bands for celebrations, or perhaps to hunt bison here at Opimihaw.
Interpretive Stop 7
People and the River
A prairie river concentrates resources.
At the water’s edge people hunted and trapped swans, ducks, geese, beaver, mink, muskrat, and otter.
Some people built simple rafts and hide-covered boats, but most crossed the river on foot. They waded through the shallows in summer or crossed the ice in winter. The river was not used for long distance travel until the Europeans arrived.
The Opimihaw Creek Site People lived at this site in 16 known time periods, stretching back at least 1,800 years. The evidence lies beneath your feet. The South Saskatchewan River frequently flooded the creek valley. The sediments buried and preserved the artifacts. They tell us about the lives of early peoples like the pages of a book.
Interpretive Stop 8
Meewasin Creek Buffalo Pound
Imagine yourself standing on this spot 2,000 years ago.
You feel the ground begin to shake. Listen – can you hear the sounds of thundering hooves? Can you hear the calls of the Shaman? Any second now, the buffalo will appear.
They gallop directly toward you, stampeding over the hill and into the trap – the buffalo pound. Some animals will be wounded in the crush of bodies, others will be shot or speared by hunters – some waiting here, others following behind the herd. After the hunt the people give thanks to the buffalo spirit.
The pound is the second hunting method commonly used at Wanuskewin.
Though not steep enough for a jump, the natural form of the land makes this a perfect pound site.
Hunting techniques must suit the land.
Bones and tools unearthed here reveal this place was used by many generations. A ring of stones shows that a tipi stood here. It may have sheltered a small family. It may have belonged to a Shaman. Ceremonies crucial to the success of the hunt might have taken place here.
Interpretive Stop 9
Sunburn Tipi Rings
These rings of stones are the tent pegs of the past. They once held down the sides of tipis.
With a commanding view of the river and surrounding prairie, this hilltop was a good summer campsite. The plateau’s colling winds offered escape from biting insects.
For many Plains people, the circle has special meaning from the circle of the tipi to the circle from childhood to old age, returning to the earth which brings forth new children.
It is for this reason that children and elders grew closer together as they shared in the life of the camp.
Interpretive Stop 10
The Medicine Wheel
Look closely. You will see a central calm surrounded by a ring of stones.
Outside this ring life three smaller cairns. This is a medicine wheel, one of the great mysteries of the plains. About 100 wheels lie on remote hilltops across the Northern Plains, each with a clear view of the cardinal directions.
No one knows for certain the exact use of this wheel.
Some are aligned with star formations and mark the summer solstice – the time of the Sun Dance. Are they calendars of the skies?
This wheel does not have the radiating spokes which are features of other wheels, and no astronomical alignments have been detected.
It may be a monument to an individual or event. Pottery fragments and arrow tips indicate it is at least 1,500 years old.
The original creators of the Medicine Wheel have long returned to the earth, taking with them the wheel’s story.
However, its spiritual significance still resonates for their descendants. Please respect this sacred place.
Interpretive Stop 11
Opimihaw Buffalo Jump
Opimihaw is Cree for “the one who flies”.
2,300 yeas ago, massive bison stampeded over this cliff and plunged to their death.
Swift young “buffalo runners” stalked the herds, sometimes for days. They channeled the animals between “drive lines” – piles of rocks, brush and buffalo chips that extended behind you for kilometers.
The lines guided the hunters as much as they did the hunted. The runners stampeded the herd as it approached the jump-off point.
Driven by panic and fear, the bison followed the lead animal. Their eyes could not detect the cliff’s edge until it was too late.
The crush of the herd behind was too great to stop.
In a clearing below, hunters waited to kill the wounded animals. Everyone worked quickly to process the meat and hides. The elders tell of the great feasts which followed.
Today, archaeologists find the burnt and broken bison bone and processing tools left by the countless generations which used this jump.
Interpretive Stop 12
If you were standing on this spot thousands of years ago, what would you see?
Climate shifts have changed the plant and animal communities over time.
At some times, evergreen trees carpeted the valley. At other times, trees gave way to dry grassland and pungent sage.
Perhaps, on the hillside across the valley, bison would be descending along the trail which remains today. At the creek’s edge, pronghorn antelope might pause for a drink.
In the clearing below, you might see smoke rising from fire lit tipis. Perhaps the shelters of willow and hide would be clustered in a camp below the cliff.
One the peak to the east, you might see a solitary figure whose deeply spiritual vision quest has taken him there, closer to the clouds and the Creator.
The people who lived here for thousands of year shared a delicate balance with plant and animal, earth and sky.
Perhaps we can learn from their success.
Interpretive Stop 13
Excavation and Discovery
Within the park, you will be able to see the most intriguing part of archaeology, an excavation.
Here a charred bone becomes an evening meal 3,000 years old. A worn bead becomes the ornament on a child’s doll. A shattered stone becomes a scraper fashioning clothes in the skilled hands of a young woman. Share the sense of discovery.
Pollen grains, seeds and shells preserved in the soils tell us that the creek below you and living communities around you have changed over time. Artifacts left behind tell us that the people changed over time.
The goal of archaeology is to describe and interpret human behaviour in the past. We understand that some things will never be known, or can only be told by the spoken word of oral cultures.
The challenge of archaeology is to combine the findings of many sciences within the collective memory of Indian people.
Interpretive Stop 14
The Trail of Discovery
How do archaeologists work in the field? Where would you start?
Archaeologists begin by viewing the land in ways past people may have viewed it.
Look around you. Where would you want to camp? What landform could be used to capture bison? Where could you get wood?
You may have selected the open flat clearing below for a campsite. You’re on the right trail!
This is the Thundercloud archaelogical site – a known winter camp area. There weren’t any surface finds to locate the site, so archaeologists dug test pits. They discovered artifacts from six different time periods.
Test pits are the stepping stones to discovery. When archaeologists find a promising site, they follow up with a full scale excavation.