Bison points the way to the great culture that makes up Wanuskewin’s history

Staff at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan unearthed a major archaeological find, and they did with the unexpected help of some bison that had been brought back to the park two years ago.


Archaeological team leader Ernie Walker recalls the exact date this discovery happened – August 16, 2020.

Walker and the bison curator were in the lawn about 800 meters from the park building and the bison jumped, which Walker in 1982 named “Newo Asiniak”, Cree word for “four stones”.

“I just happened to be looking down at my feet and there was a rock that was sticking out, part of it, through the ground, and it had some kind of weird trench on top,” Walker said.

He said at the time he thought the trench might have just been damaged but ended up mulching it over to reveal more rock.

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“That’s when I realized that this is really what’s called a petroglyph. This was intentionally carved,” said Walker.

“What’s interesting is that bison are the ones that really spot it in part because we’re in their lawn where they water and they have to go across this lawn to get from pasture to pasture. is different. So they spend quite a bit of time there. They will be amazed. They will dust themselves, and they have removed most of the vegetation.

“They were responsible for showing us these buried rocks,” Walker said. “They’re just so happy to be here.”

Bison was reintroduced to the park in December 2019. This is the first time the plains bison have returned to their ancestral homeland in more than 150 years.

Click to play video:'Bison born in Wanuskewin Heritage Park'

Baby bison born at Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Baby bison born at Wanuskewin Heritage Park – April 24, 2020

Walker explains: Petroglyphs are figures carved, carved, or slit into a rock.

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He said rock art can be found around the world and in the northern plains. There are about nine different styles.

Walker said the four petroglyphs found were carved in the fingernail tradition, most common in southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

It’s called a hoofprint because instead of carving an entire bison onto a rock, which would take a lot of work, the Indigenous people just carve separated claws, Walker said. “So it’s very metaphorical. Those hooves represent a bison.”

One of four petroglyphs discovered in Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park / Provided

From ethnographic information, Walker says there are three things associated with the pedicure tradition: femininity, fertility, and innovation.

“And it has to do with bison. It is about the sacred relationship between the females and the bison. ”

Walker himself was stunned by the discovery. He lists other artifacts that have been discovered around Wanuskewin: a bison jump, a tipi ring, a buried campsite, and a medicinal wheel that is most commonly found on the plains.

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“What we didn’t have was rock art, and suddenly we were in the rock art business.”

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Walker told Wanuskewin CEO Darlene Brander about the discovery right away.

“(Walker) knocked on the door and he knocked in a way that I knew something was going on,” Brander said.

“He walked in and said, ‘We found it, we found rock art.’ And my eyes go big,” said Brander. Months ago, they talked about what Wanuskewin really needed or wanted. And that conversation led to one thing, she recalls: “Wouldn’t it be great if we had rock art?”

Both Walker and Brander set out to make sure next steps followed etiquette and etiquette, including consulting with elders.

The elders called the rocks “grandpa”. After some discussion, Brander said the elders gave Wanuskewin permission to move some of them onto the site “so we can share them with the world.”

She said elders and retainers of knowledge were amazed and pondered over the discovery.

“There is no guidebook that comes with the petroglyphs, so it really helps with contemplation and reflection on spirituality and the role of culture in other cultures,” explains Brander. within the indigenous community. “To see older people go through that is really special.”

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The park received a letter from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society (SAS) certifying that the rock carvings were the result of cultural modification.

SAS CEO Tomasin Playford writes: “The position and alignment of the carvings could not have been created in any other way.

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Brander says it’s an extra layer of verification that really backs up Walker’s expertise.

She added that if it had been any other normal person walking over the rock the day Walker did, they might have just stepped over.

She said verification is also really important for the park UNESCO World Heritage Application. The park was named to the tentative list in 2017 and is still awaiting official designation.

There are 20 World Heritage Sites in Canada, none in Saskatchewan.

Brander calls the petroglyph the final work that makes Wanuskewin unique in the world.

While excavating to prepare to remove the petroglyph, a stone knife was found adjacent to the surface about 10 cm below the surface.

“This is a stone tool, without a doubt. It has been used and re-sharpened. When I measure the width of the blade of the stone knife, it is the same width as the grooves in the stone,” says Walker.

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Walker said it is difficult to date rock art, especially petroglyphs, because there aren’t any documents to date. He said he often relies on organic materials such as coal to date an artifact.

However, traditional nail art dates back 300 to 1,800 years.

Walker said he estimates the petroglyphs could be up to 1,475 years old. This is because the largest bone bed buried in the jump of the Newo Asiniak bison is 1,475 years old.

Walker said while he was delighted to find the petroglyphs, he was more interested in the story behind it.

He says the finding adds to Wanuskewin’s story.

“Now it’s another dimension, and this is a space that’s more concerned with spiritual things, ritual things. Bison dancing is for a living. Campgrounds are about where and where you live throughout the year.

But when you get to the drug wheel and you come across this, these petroglyphs, it’s another part of society, another part of life that you don’t see,” Walker said.

He said he believes the find will be of great help to the park in its quest to win the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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As for the name Newo Asiniak, Walker can’t remember why he gave the jumping bison that name nearly 40 years ago, but says it’s interesting and a bit odd that four have now been found petroglyphs there.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc. Bison points the way to the great culture that makes up Wanuskewin’s history


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