One spring day in 2016, after years of travelling back and forth along Hwy 14 (AB) / 40 (SK), I decided it was time to take a look at the Viking Ribstones. East of the town of Viking, AB is a pull-out with a provincial heritage marker describing Ribstones Historic Site. I’d stopped there many times, but had never ventured any further because the turn off wasn’t marked.** However, I’d recently come across instructions on how to reach the site, and that encouraged me to try a quick visit, without risk of losing time on a search.
The Viking Ribstones are two quartzite boulders known as glacial erratics that identify an archaeological site going back to ancient times. These Boulder Petroglyphs have markings that resemble the spine and rib cage of a buffalo as well as smaller circular indentations whose purpose is unclear. Speculation suggests these pits could represent 1) arrow or bullet wounds, or 2) are the result of “repeated pounding done to replicate the sound of a running herd as part of a pre-hunt ceremony“, or 3) “may have been carved in imitation of the pock-marked surface of the Iron Creek Meteorite.” The
papamihaw asiniy (flying rock in Cree) or Iron Creek Meteorite could be seen from this hilltop until it was removed in 1866 by Missionary George McDougall.
The Viking Ribstones are one of nine ribstone sites that have been found in Alberta. This location, on private land, is unique in that the boulders have not been disturbed or removed. In the 1950s, the area was ploughed, and at that time many ancient artifacts were uncovered. Historically, good luck offerings and prayers of thanks were given at ribstone sites to “Old Man Buffalo,” the spirit protector of the buffalo herds. Today, this hilltop remains a sacred site. Sweetgrass braids, offerings of tobacco, and colourful prayer flags on the surrounding trees and fencing are placed regularly, and should be respected.
- Alberta Heritage Marker
- Viking Ribstones Archaeological Site
- A Sacred Site: The Buffalo Ribstones by Viking
- Spirit of the Stone
** Note: There is now signage marking the grid road south.
All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.