Logged in as user  [Login]  |
AHSP Glossary
Return to Search Results Printable Version
 





WRITING-ON-STONE, GLYPHS

Milk River, Near

Other Names:
Writing-On-Stone Complex
Writing-on-Stone Glyphs - Provincial Park
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Writing-on-Stone Archaeological Area lies within Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, on the north and south sides of the Milk River, 42 km southeast of the Town of Milk River. Contained within an area of approximately 156 hectares, it consists of a complex of at least 38 known prehistoric and protohistoric sites, including artifact scatters, campsites, a killsite and numerous rock art sites. In addition, the remains of a late nineteenth-century North West Mounted Police post are also located within the designated area.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Writing-on-Stone Archaeological Area lies in its identity as one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric and historic period Native American pictographs and petroglyphs in North America. Additional heritage value is expressed in the area's association with the North Mounted Police and its relationship to the establishment of Canadian sovereignty and settlement in the west.

The rock art within the Writing-On-Stone Archaeological Area has been created through incising, scratching, abrading, pecking (petroglyphs) and painting, drawing or chalking (pictographs) on the vertical faces of the sandstone cliffs flanking the Milk River valley. The artwork ranges from individual images to large composite pictures with numerous images. The panels include depictions of humans with V-necks, square shoulders or pointed shoulders, humans bearing round shields, humans with weaponry (bows and arrows, spears, guns) or weaponry depicted on its own, animals such as horses, birds, bison and other game animals, triangular images interpreted as tipis and a variety of geometric shapes, including circles, semi-circles, dots and lines. Composite panels depict hunting and camp life, as well as scenes of battle. Ancient cultural materials found in areas of the rock art have included arrow points (stone and metal) as well as stone flakes and bone fragments. Prehistoric campsites also occur in the area and are often represented by the remains of campfires (hearths) and scatters of bone and stone debris.

Stories from local Aboriginal people attest to the past and continued importance of the location. Given the variety and density of the pictographs and petroglyphs, they have been subject to a number of scholarly studies. Some researchers have indicated that the artwork can be classified into two main types: the 'ceremonial' (including the human figures, animals and weaponry) and the 'biographical' (the composite scenes). Based on differences in between the images of the two types, it has been suggested that different people living on the Plains may have been responsible for the different styles, with the 'ceremonial' images placed in the canyon between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1700 and the 'biographical' panels created between A.D. 1700 and A.D. 1890. Archaeological excavation of artifacts and campsites within the regions suggest that the area has been occupied for at least 3,000 years.

In addition to the rock art, the Writing-On-Stone Archaeological Area is also important for the presence of an early North West Mounted Police post in Police Coulee, on the south side of the Milk River. The site covers portions of three floodplain terraces of the Milk River floodplain and in 1887 was established as a seasonal tent camp for 'D' Division. In 1888, however, they were replaced by a permanent detachment of 'K' Division, whose job it was to patrol the Canada-U.S. border 10km to the south, control the illicit whiskey trade, mediate conflicts between the ranchers and the local Aboriginal people, and to assist with fire suppression.

The post is considered to be typical of the remote outposts occupied by the North West Mounted Police. In 1889, construction of a kitchen, stable and blacksmith shop were completed, resulting in a series of log buildings with mud chinking and shingled roofs. By 1890, the barracks and a main office were finished, as well as a coal shed, a stone house and a small stone fence. Numerous structural problems with the buildings, however, made life uncomfortable and necessitated continuous renovation. In 1908, one of the worst floods remembered in the area caused considerable damage and removed a number of the buildings. Despite this, the post continued to rebuild and by 1910, with the influx of settlers to the area, it became a social centre in the region. It was closed in 1918, however, when a number of force members enlisted to fight in World War I. Reconstruction of some of the buildings was completed for the purposes of interpretation in 1974.

Archaeological investigation of the North West Mounted Police post was undertaken between 1973 and 1974 to assess the structural evidence and provide information for reconstruction. The assessments relocated 11 buildings and a number of miscellaneous features, including a pole horse shelter and four dugout storage facilities. Archaeological excavation was conducted on a portion of the barracks and a stable. Artifacts recovered provide a detailed picture of the daily life at the post, representing domestic, hardware and personal items. In addition to the historic period materials, early prehistoric artifacts were found underlying the historic materials, and included campfires (hearths), pottery, stone flakes and tools, as well as bone fragments and a piece of a clamshell.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 028).Keyser, James D. and Michael A. Klassen. 2001. "Plains Indian Rock Art" (UBC Press, Vancouver). Adams, Gary, Michael R.A. Forsman, Sheila J. Minni. 1977. "Archaeological Investigations: Writing-on-Stone N.W.M.P. Post, Historic Sites Service Occasional paper No. 4, Alberta Culture, Historical Resources, Edmonton. Hurt, Leslie, 1979, A History of Writing-on-Stone N.W.M.P. Post, Historic Sites Service Occasional Paper No. 5, Alberta Culture Historical Resources, Edmonton.


Character-Defining Elements


Location



Street Address:
Community: Milk River, Near
Boundaries: Portion of Section 35, Township 1, Range 13, West of the Fourth Meridian
Contributing Resources:

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
4
13
13
13
13
13
13
13
13
13
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
35
35
35
35
35
35
35
35
35
01
02
03
04
05
06
07
08
11

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

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.076261 -111.643205

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1981/02/27

Historical Information

Built: N/A
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s)
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE:

The carved and painted figures at Writing-On-Stones Provincial Park represent the largest concentration of rock art in Canada; it is one of the most significant petroglyph/pictograph sites in North America. The rock art has been subject to several intensive studies by scholars of international repute (Dewdney 1964, Habgood 1967, Keyser 1977, Brink 1978). The figures range from standing warriors bearing large shields which date to a time before the horse had reached Alberta, through battle scenes of mounted warriors armed with firearms, to an illustration of the hanging of tow human figures by wagon-driving Euro-Canadians. Scenes of hunting and camp life, and of birds and animals, attest to the rich life and spiritual guardians forming the world of the Plains Indians.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0060
Designation File: Des. 28
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 44392
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. 28)
Return to Search Results Printable Version



Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve.


Home    Search    Site Map    Contact Us    Login   Library Search

© 1995 - 2013 Government of Alberta    Copyright and Disclaimer    Privacy    Accessibility