“Extremely rare” buffalo petroglyphs found at Wanuskewin
- NC Raine | November 20, 2021
When six female buffalo were returned last year to the grassy riverbank, where their ancestors roamed for thousands of years, their hooves uncovered ancient rock carvings depicting bison ribs and a spirit figure.
“The discovery of these petroglyphs is a testament to just how sacred and important this land is,” said Darlene Brander, CEO of Wanuskewin Heritage Park. “The individual who made these petroglyphs was actually carving their legacy into the rock many years ago.”
The new archeological find includes four petroglyphs that are believed to be 300 to 1,800 years old, said Dr. Ernie Walker, one of the founders of the heritage park that lies on the northern edge of Saskatoon.
“These are very rare,” he said.
Walker and bison manager Craig Thoms were walking in the bison pasture on August 16th, 2020, about 800 metres from the building, when Walker stumbled upon a large rock that had been exposed by the activity of the bison that had been brought to the site in December 2019, Walker said.
He had discovered a “bison ribstone” - a large engraved rock that depicts the ribs of a bison and a spirit figure.
While Walker and his team were excavating around the petroglyph, they found the stone knife that was used to carve the drawings. They also found three additional petroglyphs, of various shapes, sizes, and designs. It is extremely rare to find four carved boulders together and even more rare to locate the carving tool used to make them, Walker said.
“The ribstones and foot print tradition rock art are usually about femaleness. Not necessarily one female, but the essence of female. They are certainly about fertility, which you should read a renewal. And they are certainly about bison,” said Walker.
“My guess is the ribstone petroglyph is as old as 1,400 or 1,500 years. You're looking at human behaviour that is that long ago.”
“This petroglyph is an example of someone's dreams and someone's aspirations.”
Practical considerations required the park administration to keep the findings under wrap until now. There were safety issues, as the petroglyphs were found in a bison enclosure.
But above all, they wanted to consult and allow time for Elders to consider the findings and devise a plan. Their guidance was key, Walker said.
The first stone found, the bison ribstone, will be on display at Wanuskewin's Interpretive centre at the park.
“Since the bison have returned to Wanuskewin, they've changed everything,” Walker said.
“The petroglyph ribstone adds to this entire story, from 6,000 years ago, to the live bison in the park now. It's clear to me that this place wants and needs to be a Canadian park, and it's clear to me after all these years that it wants and needs to be a (UNESCO) world heritage site,” he said.
The historic findings have become an integral part of Wanuskewin's UNESCO World Heritage Site dossier package, Brander said.
“Today's announcement really does speak to the Elder's vision 40 years ago where they had the desire to bring the bison back to the land,” said Brander. “I hope that today we are on the path to UNESCO.”