Imagining Head-Smashed-In

Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains

Table of contents

Foreward by Eldon Yellowhorn



1. The Buffalo Jump

Communal Buffalo Hunting

Not Just Any Cliff

The Site

The Cliff

How Long Have Buffalo Jumped?

Blood on the Rocks: The Story of Head-Smashed-In

2. The Buffalo

Is it Bison or Buffalo?

In Numbers, Numberless

Tricks of the Trade

The Fats of Life

3. A Year in the Life




The Big Picture

Science and the Historic Record

The Seasonal Round


Fall and Winter


The Season of Buffalo Jumping

4. The Killing Fields

Finding Bison

Drive Lanes

Points in Time

Ancient Knowledge

Back to the Drive Lanes


In Small Things Forgotten

5. Rounding Up

The Spirit Sings

The Nose of the Buffalo

Fire this Time

Luring the Buffalo

Buffalo Runners

Lost Calves

Billy’s Stories

The End of the Drive

Of Illusions, Pickup Trucks, and Curves in the Road

6. The Great Kill

Leap of Faith


Drop of Death

Bones on Fire

Let the Butchering Begin

Bison Hide as Insulator

Back to the Assembly Line

7. Cooking up the Spoils

The Processing Site

Day Fades to Night

Dried Goods

Grease is the Word

High Plains Cooking

Hazel Gets Slimed

Buffalo Chips

Hot Rocks

Time for a Roast

Where are the Skulls?

Packing Up, Among the Bears

8. Going Home

Buffalo Hides


Snow Falling on Cottonwoods

9. The End of the Buffalo Hunt

The Skin of the Animal

The Last of the Buffalo Jumps

Rivers of Bones

Final Abandonment of Head-Smashed-In

10. The Future of the Past


A Beer-Soaked Bar Napkin

Cranes on the Cliff

A Rubber Cliff

And a Rubber Dig

The Blackfoot Get Involved

Meeting with the Piikani

Joe Crowshoe

A Painted Skull

Where are the Blood?

Hollywood North

Opening and Aftermath

Of Time and Tradition

Epilogue: Just a Simple Stone

Note Sources




For millennia, Aboriginal hunters on the North American Plains used their knowledge of the land and of buffalo behaviour to drive their quarry over cliffs. Archaeologist Jack Brink has written a major study of the mass buffalo hunts and the culture they supported before and after European contact. By way of example, he draws on his 25 years excavating at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in southwestern Alberta, Canada – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  • Winner, City of Edmonton Book Prize 2009
  • Winner, Best Archaeology Book, Popular Writing Category, Society for American Archaeology 2009
  • Winner, Public Communications Award, Canadian Archaeological Association 2009
  • Winner, Best Adult Non-Fiction, Calgary Public Library Foundation Literary Awards 2009


Brink takes readers on an exploration of the site, telling its story in an irresistible personal voice into which he pours his heart and soul. What comes through is the author's deep respect for his subject.

- Ken Tingley

A writer committed to a subject that most of the world considers marginal, yet approaches it with I-will-be-heard confidence, can win the heart of even the most recalcitrant reader. Jack W. Brink, a curator at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, has that ability. He's spent 25 years studying the way Prairie natives kept themselves alive for millennia by hunting buffalo, a subject that in his hands becomes absorbing, dramatic and almost urgent.

- Robert Fulford

Pick up this book and add it to your collection; it is a must read for anyone interested in the past, anyone studying history of the plains, and everyone just looking for some fresh, new and upbeat reading material. Imagining Head-Smashed-In is a tale about courage, ingenuity and the struggle for survival.

- John Copley

Imagining Head Smashed-In brings alive the past as well as the archaeological process, in an engaging description of how archaeology really happens, which complements Brink's impressive command of the data.

- Citation from the Society for American Archaeology Public Audience Book Award