Stone Features on the Prairies

Several types of stone features are found on the southern Alberta plains. Tipi rings are by far the most numerous followed, by Medicine Wheels. Small cairns or piles of rocks delineating drive lanes for buffalo hunts may also have been associated with scared sites. There are smaller numbers of human and animal effigy sites as well.

Tipi rings are prairie stones used to hold down the buffalo skin covers of First Nations tipi dwellings. These stones were left when the group moved on as indicators of habitation sites.

Medicine Wheels are sacred sites typically built on the highest point on the landscape. Many have a central rock pile or cairn and a circle of stones surrounding it. Some have rock lines that radiate from the cairn. Rocks, offerings of tobacco and other items have been added to the central cairns over the years. Several Medicine Wheels are still being used by Niitsitapii (Blackfoot) people today.

Drive lane cairns laid out in a funnel pattern were built to direct bison herds towards a cliff or corral. In some cases, members of the hunting tribe hid behind branches stuck into the cairns. This was an effective hunting technique which allowed the people to kill enough buffalo to supply meat, clothing, lodge covers and tools for the group to survive the winter months.

Effigy sites are configurations of stones carefully placed to create a symbolic human figure. The Noble Point effigy was constructed along the northern edge of Chin Coulee south of Taber. With the land owner’s permission, it was mapped by archaeologist Shawn Bubel and members of the Lethbridge Centre chapter of the Archaeological Society of Alberta in 2009.

These stone arrangements date from fairly recent to thousands of years in age and are significant historical records.