Tipis (formerly spelled teepee) were conical tents made of buffalo or other animal hides, used as a dwelling for mobile hunter-gatherers on the American Plains. Prior to the wide use of wooden stakes, the people of the Plains used available rocks to weigh down the edges of their tipis. When the camp moved, the tipis were taken down and moved with the camp. But of course, the people left the rocks behind, resulting in a series of stone circles on the ground.
Tipi rings are what archaeologists call the circle of stones that is left behind after the Plains people moved on. Thousands of intact or nearly intact groups of tipi rings have been identified throughout the Great Plains in the United States and Canada, where the construction of modern roads and cities have not destroyed these sites.
Mapping Tipi Rings
A recent investigation into tipi ring sites at the Bighorn Canyon in Montana was undertaken by Indiana University and Northwest College. The Bighorn Canyon was the historic home of several Plains groups, such as the Crow and Shoshone. Researchers used hand-held Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) to input data on tipi rings, part of a developed mapping method combining remote sensing, excavation, hand-drawing, computer-assisted drawing and Magellan Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment.
The survey identified 143 tipi rings at eight sites, part of a single archaeological landscape believed by researchers to be evidence of documented travel along the Bad Pass Trail. Radiocarbon dates for the use of the trail range between 300 and 2500 years ago. Scheiber and Finley tentatively associate some of the tipi rings as evidence of the historical Crow migration from their Hidatsa homeland, along the Missouri River in North Dakota.
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