MTPR

'Buffalo Stone' Could Give Insight Into Blackfeet History

Sep 10, 2019

About two years ago, a Saskatchewan woman found an odd rock on her farm. It was recently determined to be a fossil known as a "buffalo stone," which is sacred to the Blackfeet people. The rare find may provide further proof of the tribe’s historic range.

When prehistoric sea creatures known as ammonites died millions of years ago, the chambers of their shells served as molds for forming fossils. One in particular produces a familiar figure.

"When the chambers break off, they naturally have this bison shape. It’s amazing. There’s a head, then the back and four little legs."

Seal of the Blackfeet Nation

Evelyn Siegfried is the curator of aboriginal studies at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. She recently identified a buffalo stone found on a farm in the southeast corner of the province two years ago. The woman who found it only recently consulted with the museum.

Buffalo stones are sacred to the Blackfeet tribes in the U.S. and Canada. John Murray is the tribal historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

"The buffalo stone was used as a power of spirit to call the buffalo. We had to hunt buffalo, and the hunt had to be successful or you wouldn’t eat. So we had different ways to assist us and the buffalo stone played an important role," Murray says.

Buffalo stones are fairly common in southern Alberta, but the one found in eastern Saskatchewan is one of a handful discovered that far east. Murray says the stone’s location fits with oral stories about the tribe’s historical range and other artifacts that have supported those stories.

The buffalo stone found on Tricia Hallborg Riviere’s farm in Radville, Saskatchewan.
Credit Courtesy Tricia Hallborg Riviere

Still, Siegfried with the Royal Museum says the buffalo stone may have been transported to the farm in a gravel delivery, and it’s hard to verify that it was ever used by the Blackfeet Nation. However, she says some lines appear to be carved into the stone, which may indicate use.

"To me it verifies the oral stories that they have for themselves about where they were and what they did in the landscape. There’s more and more oral history that’s being verified by archeology today. I think that’s really important."

Siegfried says the woman who found the stone is still deciding whether to permanently turn it over to the museum.