Bringing the Past to the Present for the Future



Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Archaeological Process in Ontario

The archaeological process in Ontario is conducted in four sequential stages. Stage I, and in most cases Stage II, are required for residential and commercial development and infrastructure improvement undertaken in the Province under the Planning and Environmental Assessment Acts. Stage III and Stage IV investigations are determined through documentary and cultural resources encountered during the Stage I and Stage II assessments. The Ministry of Culture is currently reviewing the standards for archaeology in Ontario. The new guidelines are expected to be in place in the spring of 2007. Not only does the Central Archaeology Group adhere to the existing Ministry of Culture’s Archaeological Assessment Technical Guidelines, but in anticipation of these new guidelines, we have already incorporated them into our work practices.

Stage I – Background Study

The purpose of the Stage I assessment is to investigate the cultural land use, archaeological history, and the present condition of a property. The majority of the Stage I process is conducted in the office and involves the examination of records such as historic settlement maps, land titles and documents, historical land use and ownership records, primary and secondary documentary sources, and the Ministry of Culture’s archaeological sites database. The study may also involve interviews with individuals who can provide information about the property and consultation with local First Nations communities. The background study is followed by a property inspection to examine geography, topography and current conditions, and to determine the potential for archaeological resources. Stage I background research is usually completed in conjunction with a Stage II property survey.

Stage II – Property Survey

The Stage II property survey involves the documentation of archaeological resources by collecting artifacts and mapping cultural features. Depending on the nature of the property environment, two methods are employed in the survey: 1) pedestrian survey, and; 2) test-pit survey.

Pedestrian survey involves walking the property to search for features and collect artifacts on the surface. It is usually reserved for recently ploughed land that has been weathered by one heavy rainfall or several light rainfalls to increase visibility of cultural material on the surface.

Test-pit survey is utilized to search for artifacts and features located below the surface by digging small regularly spaced, shovel-sized pits. These surveys are carried out in wooded areas, pastures with a high rock content, abandoned farmland with heavy brush growth, properties of less than a hectare, and narrow corridors for pipelines, hydro lines, road widening, etc.

Any artifacts or features discovered on the property are mapped. A sizable concentration of artifacts and/or features likely indicates the presence of a site(s). At this point, the archaeologist, in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, will determine if the project should proceed to a Stage III site-specific assessment. If nothing is found during the Stage II property survey, or the artifact or features found are deemed to have little heritage value by the Ministry of Culture, then development of the property can proceed.

Stage III – Site-Specific Assessment

The purpose of the Stage III site-specific assessment is to identify the extent of the archaeological site(s) discovered during the Stage II property survey. During the site-specific assessment a representative sample of artifacts is gathered to determine the heritage value of the site and appropriate strategies for mitigation are recommended. The Stage III assessment also involves detailed documentary research that is specific to the site(s) that supplements the Stage I background study.

Stage III field analysis involves a controlled surface pick-up and test unit excavations. In a controlled surface pick-up, the ground surface is examined for diagnostic artifacts and/or a representative sample of non-diagnostic material, which are recorded and collected. Like pedestrian survey in the Stage II assessment, controlled surface pick-up is reserved for ploughed fields.

Test unit excavations involve controlled excavations using one-metre squares to determine the presence buried artifacts and/or features. Test unit excavations are conducted in areas where archaeological sites were discovered through Stage II test pit excavations or where Stage III surface pick-up occurred. Although the goal of test unit excavations is to determine the overall extent of an archaeological site and to gather a representative sample of artifacts, the number of test units required is dependent on the nature of the archaeological site.

Stage IV – Mitigation of Development Impacts

The Stage IV mitigation of development impacts is used to outline the overall impact of development on the heritage value of an archaeological site, and is addressed by either the protection and avoidance of the archaeological site, or complete excavation and documentation.

Protection and avoidance offers both short term protection of archaeological sites during the development phase, and long-term protection which ensures the preservation of the archaeological site from future development without further documentation and removal. Protection and avoidance measures can include establishing a buffer zone around the archaeological site or passing site stewardship to a publicly accountable owner, such as a municipality or conservation authority.

Although protection and avoidance is preferred, the preservation of archaeological sites is not always feasible. Excavation and documentation involves the removal of as much cultural material from the archaeological context as possible. This involves the excavation of one metre units around high-yielding test units from Stage III by hand and mechanical topsoil removal to uncover any subsurface features.

Graves and Cemeteries

Cemeteries are a ubiquitous component of the landscape and it is not surprising that many unknown and unmarked graves are found every year. Considering the overarching spiritual and religious connotations of cemeteries, identifying unmarked grave sites has become a political, social, economic, and developmental priority over the years. It therefore becomes important to delineate the boundaries of unmarked cemeteries, and to do so with sensitivity. The Central Archaeology Group is able to provide the technical support you need while maintaining the sensitivity needed for such a project. By utilizing new technology, such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), we are able to map grave locations with little to no physical disturbance of the site. However, in other instances, given the circumstances of discovery, the proposed land use of the area, or in cases of extreme soil erosion to known graves or cemeteries, it may become both necessary and desirable to have the internments removed to a more appropriate location.

The Central Archaeology Group is well-equipped to conduct examinations of identified and unmarked cemeteries and grave sites for the purposes of documentation, registration, relocation, and cemetery closure. These investigations may involve the identification, mapping, and reporting of unmarked Euro-Canadian and First Nations grave sites, as well as the negotiation of site disposition agreements between landowners and representatives of the deceased, and the processing of new cemetery applications. All cemetery projects are conducted under the Ontario Cemeteries Act and associated regulations, administered by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services.

Urban Environments

Archaeological investigations in urban environments require a different approach than the methods listed above. Archaeological deposits are often associated with complex sequences that are usually found beneath modern buildings and concreted in areas that have been developed for decades and sometimes even centuries. Although the presence of former land use may not be readily apparent, often evidence of the past, such as building foundations, cellars, privies, and even graves, can be found in deeply buried deposits beneath the surface. However, traditional archaeological field investigations in these areas are often difficult and not always plausible. Before field investigations begin, a detailed examination into the land use of the proposed development area is conducted through the use of documentary sources, historic maps, insurance plans, city directories and old photographs. Once areas of archaeological potential have been identified, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is passed over the surface of the site to detect any sub-surface features. Significant features identified by the GPR are further examined through borehole and/or trench excavations.

Laura McRae and Derek Paauw


simon said...

Do you have a reference for this information? I'd like to cite some of it in a report.


Laura McRae said...

Hi Simon,

Sorry about the awful delay! You can check out the Ontario Ministry of Culture's draft standards. They are located on their website. Hope this helps!


Sean said...

Hope you could help out...
For proposed new devlopmment in an urban context with known deposits what would be the process and timing to achieve a building permit?

逛街 said...


Anonymous said...

快樂不需要理由-及時行樂 ....................................................

tiktok said...


Anonymous said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical...................................................

Anonymous said...

感謝分享好的作品~~ ........................................