horizon archaeology

.: Archaeology in Ontario

Archaeology in Ontario, a four stage process

STAGE 1: Background Study

The background study is designed to provide the archaeologist, and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, with information about the known heritage resources within a study area, and to estimate the potential that other hitherto unknown archaeological sites might also be present there. This process includes a search of the Provincial Site Database to see if any known sites are registered within the study area, as well as a review of the land use history of the property by using archival resources, such as historic atlases, census records, land registry records, etc. Additional sources used may also include historic maps, oral histories and geophysical mapping. Stage 1 studies also involve gathering as much information as possible about the environmental conditions of the study area (soils, hydrology, geomorphology, etc).


STAGE 2: Initial Testing

During this stage of the assessment, the subject property is examined directly to determine if any potential archaeological or heritage resources may be present. Visual inspection (field walking) or subsurface-testing techniques (test pitting) are employed depending on field conditions. For field walking, the site must be weathered sufficiently to allow maximum visibility. More specifically, this means the site must be recently ploughed and have had one heavy rainfall or a few light rainfalls to expose any artifacts. Where the ground is under cultivation or pasture, test pitting is employed. Test pitting involves excavating a 30 X 30 cm hole until subsoil is reached. Pits are dug at 5 metre intervals where possible across the property. Test pits are back filled as soon as the excavation is finished. Significant archaeological finds are noted and diagnostic artifacts are retained for analysis. At this point, Ministry of Culture guidelines are employed to determine whether or not a site requires further investigation. If nothing is found, a report is made to the Ministry of Culture and the property will be cleared for development.


STAGE 3: Advanced Testing

Stage 3 work is oriented towards locating the site as precisely as possible, and test excavating it in order to determine its extent horizontally and vertically, its density, its age, and its cultural affiliation. Beginning with a controlled surface collection the surface of the site is mapped out. In a ploughed field that might mean using a total station (a laser transit) to plot in every single artifact. On uncultivated lands, that might mean sinking a large number of test pits and mapping out the positive ones in order to arrive at the shape of a site. CSC is followed by the excavation of a number of 1 x 1 metre test units on a 5 metre grid across the site to gather more information and more precisely map out the site. If artifact counts and archaeological features found during this stage are sufficiently significant (according to Ministry of Tourism and Culture guidelines), the site will be recommended for avoidance (as this is the most ethical choice) or a Stage 4 assessment. If nothing substantial or significant is discovered, the process stops here.


STAGE 4: Full Excavation

A site which is endangered and cannot be preserved is subjected to full and complete excavation according to the current (2010) Ministry of Tourism and Culture standards and guidelines which entails the full documentation and removal of the archaeological site. The goal of a Stage 4 assessment is to collect as much information from the site as possible, as quickly as possible, to present that information in a descriptive report, and to conserve and curate the artifacts from the site. Copies of this final report are then provided to the client and to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, who then makes a final decision as to whether development may proceed.