The Return of the Atlatl Dart Point

Imagine buffalo roaming across the plains of Alberta. You are poised behind tall grass, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. You sling your weapon at the buffalo and the buffalo falls dead — dinner is served.

Before bows and arrows were used, the plains people used an atlatl, pronounced ‘at-la-tel’ —a throwing stick used to hurl a long spear-like arrow with a dart on the end to kill buffalo. An atlatl dart point, found by John Viens at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump finally made its return home to the jump after over 50 years.

On Sept. 7, during Alberta Culture Days, the dart point was unveiled for the first time at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. The dart point will now be on permanent display at the Interpretive Centre. As part of the unveiling ceremony, Blackfoot Piikani Nation Elders Leo Pard and Wilfred Yellow Wings, showcased traditional Blackfoot demonstrations such as Flint Knapping, the ancient way and storytelling.

Blackfoot Piikani Nation Elder, Wilfred Yellow Wings, sharing the significance of the atlatl dart point

Blackfoot Piikani Nation Elder, Wilfred Yellow Wings, sharing the significance of the atlatl dart point

John Viens was exploring the Buffalo Jump in 1960 when he noticed a white point on the dark ground. Viens picked up the curious object and held it in his hands knowing he had stumbled upon something incredible. Viens took the point home to add to his personal collection.

He eventually showed the dart point to Jack Brink, an archaeologist connected to the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and who had spent the summer excavating the site. Brink knew it was quite the treasure, dating back approximately 5,000 years and advised Viens to have it assessed.

Viens generously donated the atlatl point to the where it was properly studied, cataloged and conserved. The museum agreed that the point should be on display at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre. Viens only ever saw himself as a custodian of the artifact and is happy the point has returned to its rightful home.

Jack Brink (left) and John Viens (right) with the atlatl dart point

Jack Brink (left) and John Viens (right) with the atlatl dart point

If you have an artifact that you think should be shared with others and want to have it assessed, contact an Alberta Historic Resource Consultant.

Definitely worth checking the atlatl out in person!

The Details:

About: The Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump was first used approximately 5,700 years ago; it is one of the oldest and best preserved buffalo jumps in North America. It is one of five UNESCO heritage sites in Alberta.

When: Year-round during regular hours. Sept. 2 to May 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 15 to Sept. 1, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is located 18 kilometres (15 minutes) North and West of Fort Macleod on secondary Highway #785 (paved).

Admission: $11 for adults, $9 for seniors (65 and over), $5 for youth (7 to 17 years), free for children 6 and under, $28 for family (2 adults and children 7 to 17). Admission is also free for Local Friends Members and half price for Outside Friends Members.

Need More Info? Visit the website or call 403-553-2731 (dial 310-0000 for toll free access in Alberta)

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