Writing-On-Stone / Áísínai'pi Provincial Park by Tyler Dixon
V-necked human with a quiver of arrows
Writing-On-Stone, or Áísínai'pi as it's known in Blackfoot, is home to the largest collection of First Nation rock art on the Great Plains of North America. The park sits in the heart of the Blackfoot's traditional territory and the area holds great spiritual significance for their people. The Government of Alberta is working with Parks Canada and the Government of Canada to nominate Writing-On-Stone for World Heritage Site status with UNESCO under the name Writing-On-Stone/Áísínai'pi, meaning “it is pictured/written” in the Blackfoot language. The Áísínai'pi National Historic Site of Canada is synonymous with Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.
The circle and tick marks (to the right)
are an early indication of counting or
tracking the passage of time
Much of the park is a protected archaeological preserve, which means it’s off limits to the public unless accompanied by a guide. The park offers rock art tours throughout the summer months where visitors have an opportunity to see some of the artwork and learn more about the meaning behind the pictographs and petroglyphs. Many of the petroglyphs that were created before the introduction of stone tools were incised or scratched onto the cliffs using antlers or bones. The pictographs were painted using red ochre, which is crushed iron ore mixed with animal fat or water. Sometimes even a piece of charcoal was used to create a painting. Unfortunately there is no technique that can accurately date rock art sites; instead researchers can approximate the age based on objects depicted in the artwork or by analyzing changes in rock art styles. Much of the rock art is still shrouded in mystery, as the exact meaning for many of the pieces may never be known. Using a variety of methods, such as legends, archaeology, historical records, and the help of First Nation elders, researchers can hypothesize some of the meanings behind the art. It is believed that much of the artwork was probably ceremonial, created during different rituals like vision quests. There are a couple of self-guided interpretive trails in the park where guests can see a few examples of rock art without joining a tour. One of the aforementioned interpretive trails leads to the most extensive and complex rock art scene in the entire park; the Battle Scene.
An artist rendition of the Battle Scene
Over 250 characters have been etched into the sandstone, which may depict an actual battle (Retreat Up The Hill Battle) as described by an Aamsskáápipikáni elder named Bird Rattle. It’s likely that the Battle Scene was carved in the late 1800’s, but other artwork in the park has been estimated to be over 5,000 years old. There is evidence that First Nation People camped in the area as long as 3,500 years ago, but it remains unclear when the first appearance of rock art truly happened. There are over 1,000 different pieces of artwork that have been discovered in the park. Researches believe that the Blackfoot People created the majority of that artwork, but other groups such as the Cree, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, Crow, Kutenai, and Shoshone are thought to have also contributed to this vast collection.
Rock Art Tour
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