Saskatchewan’s Wanuskewin Park Celebrates Ancient Archaeological Find


Petroglyphs at Wanuskewin Heritage Park were found after bison inadvertently uncovered them while “wallowing” in the grass and dust pits. (Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards photo)

Move over Howard Carter, Arthur Evans, and Joseph Tyrrell. It would appear that bison at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatchewan have made an exciting discovery of their own.

Last year it was discovered that bison activity — including “wallowing,” where bison roll in the grass and create dust pits — uncovered a patch of a submerged boulder. The find was announced by Dr. Ernie Walker, chief archaeologist and park co-founder, who explained bison activity had uncovered 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and the tool used to carve them.

Wanuskewin, located in Treaty Six Territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation, is a National Historic Site and designated among Canada’s tentative UNESCO Heritage List with a pending application. This never-before-seen archaeological find unlocks fascinating information about the Northern Plains Indigenous Peoples who gathered on the land for more than 6,400 years.

Following the initial find highlighted by the bison, Dr. Walker and his team uncovered three more petroglyphs in varying shapes, sizes, and designs at Wanuskewin, including one bearing the scratched marks of a ribstone that is associated with bison and bison hunts. These petroglyphs are estimated to date back anywhere between 300 and 1,800 years, though taken in context with historic events they are likely 1,000 years old.

“It’s something that we would refer to as rock art,” Dr. Walker said. “These are usually paintings on rocks or engravings or carvings into rocks. Now the reason why they are in short supply in this part of the world is because we don’t have cave walls or rock shelter walls or rocky escarpments. So we are pretty much left with boulders left from glaciers and times gone by.”

It is extremely rare to find four carved boulders together and even more rare to locate the carving tool used to make them. A truly remarkable story, however, is the bison. Had they not been reintroduced to their traditional land — after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1870s — this important scientific discovery would have remained hidden.

In 2019, bison were reintroduced to their traditional lands, now Wanuskewin Heritage Park, after more than 150 years. Their arrival was part of a $40-million revitalization that included conservation efforts to repopulate bison numbers across North America. These remarkable changes and finds are among the reasons why Wanuskewin will be part of the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2022, a ranking that focuses on Indigenous tourism and will be published in January. (Click here to see the 2021 rankings.)

Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, petroglyphs, Dr. Ernie Walker, bison, Northern Plains Indigenous Peoples

Four petroglyphs in varying shapes and sizes were discovered. These petroglyphs are estimated to date back anywhere between 300 and 1,800 years. (Photo courtesy of Wanuskewin Heritage Park)

Under the leadership of Dr. Walker and his fellow researchers, the site is distinguished as Canada’s longest running archaeological dig, and has produced nearly 200,000 artifacts, including teeth, bones, tools, pottery, shells, charcoal, and seeds. Many of these finds predate even the ruins of Rome and the pyramids of Egypt.

“The discovery of these petroglyphs is a testament to just how sacred and important this land is,” says Darlene Brander, CEO of Wanuskewin Heritage Park. “The individual who made these petroglyphs was actually carving their legacy into the rock many years ago.”

Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, petroglyphs, Dr. Ernie Walker, bison, Northern Plains Indigenous Peoples

The Wanuskewin Heritage Park contains some of the most exciting archaeological finds in North America, many of which pre-date the Egyptian pyramids. (Photo courtesy of Wanuskewin Heritage Park)

The park is open year-round for visitors and offers seven kilometres (4.3 miles) of walking trails, a tipi village, a restaurant serving food inspired by the land, and programming that educates guests about the Indigenous groups who have called this area home for centuries. In spring, along with being able to visit the site where the boulders were discovered, visitors will be able to see the baby bison, the first generation of a new herd of direct descendants from the original two herds — Grasslands National Park (Canada) and Yellowstone National Park (U.S.).

“We have been so fortunate over the years to have had these wondrous stories emerge that we are able to share with the community,” Brander says. “Today it is our duty to share this story as our call to reconciliation by shining a light on the distinct and beautiful cultures of the Northern Plains people.”

After visiting Wanuskewin Heritage Park be sure to make the 11-minute drive to the restaurants, museums, and parks of downtown Saskatoon. Visit Remai Modern featuring Atautchikun | wȃhkôtamowin, an Inuit art exhibit from its permanent collection. Two other museums to check out are the Western Development Museum and the Ukrainian Museum of Canada.

The famous Meewasin Trail, like Wanuskewin, will also get you close to nature — and into shape. The trail runs over 80 km (50 miles) in and around Saskatoon along both sides of the river through beautifully landscaped parks and natural areas.

The city also has a cutting-edge culinary scene. Odla (801 Broadway Avenue) is known for having fresh, local ingredients sourced from over 50 local farmers. Hearth Restaurant (2404 Melrose Avenue) is popular for foraged chanterelle mushrooms from Saskatchewan’s northern boreal forest.


Website: www.wanuskewin.com
Address: RR 4, Penner Road (see map below)
Phone: 1-306-931-6767
Tourism Saskatoon: https://www.tourismsaskatoon.com
Tourism Saskatchewan: https://www.tourismsaskatchewan.com

Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.