The buffalo jump is surprisingly sophisticated. They sit at the end of complex sequences of natural and constructed landmarks, called drive-line systems, that can stretch for many miles, linking buffalo watering holes to other points on the prairie with the intention of drawing the buffalo ever closer to the cliff itself.
Archaeologists have long recognized that nomadic prehistoric Native Americans such as the ancestral Blackfoot ("Blackfeet" refers specifically to that sub-tribe now living in Montana) constructed cairns whose function was to funnel buffalo herds toward cliffs.
But what archeologists have found in the past few years challenges that vision of Native Americans as simple bands of opportunistic buffalo hunters. Scholars thought the Blackfoot were not able to form a complex society until the late 1600s, when they got horses and guns from whites in the East.
"What happened at here is not an anomaly. We have 11 separate, elaborate drive-line systems in just a 20-mile stretch of Two Medicine River. That took coordination and a level of planning for the future that haven't normally been associated with nomadic people in this part of the world," say University of Arizona archaeologists.
The Two Medicine buffalo jumps show that the Blackfoot had a highly organized society of engineers, builders, and strong leaders as early as 900 AD. "This is complex landscape engineering that would have required a complex system of leadership."