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Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel

Bassano, Near

Other Names:
Buffalo Hill Cairn
Majorville Cairn
Majorville Cairn & Medicine Wheel HRMA
Majorville Medicine Wheel Complex
Bow East Bank Equalnight Stones
Bow East Bank Summer Solstice Stones and Circles
Bow East Bank Winter Moon and Equalnight Sun Set Lines
Bow East Bank Winter Solstice Cairns
Bow North Bank TP Rings and Cairns
Directional Knife Edges
E-W Knoll + Cairns
Lower TP South-East Town
McKenzie's Jump
N-Marker Cairns
River Edge TP Ring + Cairn Mound
Solstice Line Markers
SSS Cairns
SSS Red Granite
Upper TP South-East Town

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel (EdPc-1) consists of a central cairn, which is linked to a surrounding stone circle by 28 spokes, and the cultural landscape which contains this monument. The designation encompasses 160 acres and is situated on a height of land with an expansive view of the surrounding prairie landscape west of the Bow River in southern Alberta.

Heritage Value
Majorville Medicine Wheel (Iniskim Umaapi) provides a record of place where Blackfoot ritual activity links the present with the past and the past to the future. Iniskim (buffalo calling stones) are a central element of Blackfoot ceremonial activity and are present in exposed bedrock formations below the medicine wheel and have been recovered from archaeological excavations at the central cairn. Offerings of sweetgrass, sage, willow, cloth, tobacco, prayer and song which symbolically maintain the link of contemporary people with their ancestors continue to be left at the monument. Archaeological studies indicate this site has been continuously used for the last 4,500 years, making this one of the oldest religious monuments in the world. Artifacts were deposited in the cairn in an accretional fashion, like layers in an onion, with the oldest materials on the inside and the more recent materials towards the outside. Excavation demonstrates the sequence of use mirrors that known from other site types in the area, an indication that Majorville medicine wheel was an element of in-place Plains spiritual culture for millennia.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 724)

Character-Defining Elements
The character defining elements at Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel include:
- the structure itself, which is dominated by a 9 m diameter central cairn connected to a 27 m diameter cobble circle by 28 spokes organized in a radially-symmetrical fashion and represents one of the most complex designs for sites of this nature in Alberta;
- its location crowning a large hill overlooking a relatively undisturbed native prairie landscape providing a sense of place key to its aesthetic values; minimization of visual intrusion is necessary to preserve aesthetic values;
- the information potential in surface and subsurface archaeological artifacts, especially in the unexcavated portions of the central cairn;
- existing artifact collections that provide a potential for additional scientific analysis and educational/commemorative opportunities for First Nations people;
- numerous tipi ring sites located in undisturbed prairie surrounding the medicine wheel, including bisected rings where ritual activity occurred, evince community settlements related to use of the medicine wheel;
- outcropping of fossil ammonites immediately below the medicine wheel in the Bow River valley provide a source for securing Iniskim for cultural retention and renewal activities by First Nations people;
- oral history/legend retained by local Blackfoot communities relating the history and use of iniskim;
- ongoing ritual use of the site.


Street Address:
Community: Bassano, Near
Contributing Resources: Collection: 1
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 3

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1979/12/20

Historical Information

Period of Significance:
Theme(s): Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Philosophy and Spirituality
Peopling the Land : Canada's Earliest Inhabitants
Peopling the Land : People and the Environment
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):

Majorville Cairn is significant in that it is the only large Subgroup 5 medicine wheel that has been excavated and restored. About half of the central cairn was excavated and yielded projectile point styles and other artefacts that indicate use from the Oxbow/McKean Phase to the Historic Period, with the exception of the Pelican Lake Phase. The earliest 14C date from the cairn, although not from the earliest period of construction, is 3845 plus/minus 85-radiocarbon years before present.

The other sites in the proposed addition to the designation area represent both domestic habitation structures and, probably, structures used in the conduct of rites and ceremonies associated with the Majorville Cairn. The presence of these sites within the buffer zone are a considerably enhances the aesthetic and scientific value of the main site.


Of some 67 known medicine wheels (44 of which are situated in Alberta) only 4% take the form of Subgroup 6. These include only three sites: Majorville Cairn, Jennings (South Dakota), and Big Horn (Wyoming). The site is thus significant as the only representative of the type in the province. This style of medicine wheel is visually spectacular.

Site Data Form

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0042
Designation File: DES 0724
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 14412
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 724)
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