writing on stone park

This provincial park in Alberta has rock carvings dating back to 1050 BCE

Alberta is home to sprawling national and provincial parks, it's one of the province's smaller parks — Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park — where some of the oldest and richest history in Canada — in the form of Indigenous rock art — can be found.

Writing-on-Stone — or Áísínai’pi — holds the largest concentration of Indigenous rock art in the continent's plains within its 17.8 sq. km, with images dating back to around 1050 BCE.

Áísínai’pi's thousands of petroglyphs (images carved into rock) and pictographs (images painted onto rock with red ochre) span across more than 50 specific sites found among the park's hulking sandstone formations, called hoodoos.

Most of the artwork was created by the Blackfoot peoples (Siksikaitsitapi or Niitsitapi), who have lived in the region for thousands of years. It may have been added to by other groups, such as the Krunaxa and Shoshone, who historically traveled through the area.

The rock art at Áísínai’pi was a sophisticated form of communication for plains Indigenous groups, and depicts a range of people and animals, including deer, snakes and bison shown individually or in herds. These images have biographical and ceremonial importance.

The park's characteristic sandstone cliffs are complemented by grasslands and the meandering Milk River. Erosion of the area is slow, but unfortunately steady, with some of the ancient images already lost to rock collapses or the elements.

The biggest threat to their preservation is, not-so-shockingly, graffiti and vandalism, so visitors are discouraged from touching or climbing on the rocks, but are able to hike, camp, picnic and receive tours in the park.

The park is both a National Historic Site (named in 2004) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (named in 2019), and for good reason, given its vast cultural and spiritual significance to Canada.

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