Imagining Head-Smashed-In
360 pages, 6 1/2 x 9 1/4
Release Date:01 Feb 2008

Imagining Head-Smashed-In

Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains

Athabasca University Press

At the place known as Head-Smashed-In in southwestern Alberta, Aboriginal people practiced a form of group hunting for nearly 6,000 years before European contact. The large communal bison traps of the Plains were the single greatest food-getting method ever developed in human history. Hunters, working with their knowledge of the land and of buffalo behaviour, drove their quarry over a cliff and into wooden corrals. The rest of the group butchered the kill in the camp below.

Author Jack Brink, who devoted 25 years of his career to "The Jump," has chronicled the cunning, danger, and triumph in the mass buffalo hunts and the culture they supported. He also recounts the excavation of the site and the development of the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre, which has hosted 2 million visitors since it opened in 1987. Brink’s masterful blend of scholarship and public appeal is rare in any discipline, but especially in North American pre-contact archaeology.

Brink attests, "I love the story that lies behind the jump—the events and planning that went into making the whole event work. I continue to learn more about the complex interaction between people, bison and the environment, and I continue to be impressed with how the ancient hunters pulled off these astonishing kills."


  • 2009, 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
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, Edmonton Journal
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, Alberta Native News
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, National Post
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
A model of ecological history that will have broad appeal for scholarly and general interested readers. Janice Dickin, Communication and Culture, University of Calgary
Jack W. Brink is Archaeology Curator at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Canada. He received his B.A. from the University of Minnesota and his M.A. from the University of Alberta. His interests also include the study of rock art images of the northern Plains, and he enjoys working with Aboriginal communities on heritage issues.

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



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