Bringing the Past to the Present for the Future



Monday, March 26, 2007

Underwater Archaeology: Ontario's Marine Heritage

(reprinted courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of Culture-click on the link above to be redirected to their website)

Bordering on the four Great Lakes to the south, James and Hudson Bay on the north, and containing thousands of lakes and rivers in between, Ontario is blessed with an abundance of water.

The history of the exploration, settlement and commerce of Ontario from the earliest First Nations peoples to the present day is characterised by the important role that its waterways played. First Nations peoples travelled, traded and lived along our province's waterways for many millennia. The early European explorers arrived on and used these same routes. The early sailing vessels they built were used in the fur trade or for military purposes. However, as Ontario's commerce grew with its population, so did the role of commercial shipping. In the absence of railways and roads, the early development and trade of our province was dependant on its lakes and rivers. A century and a half ago it could have been said that Ontario was "Mother" maritime province.

The early First Nations villages and camps, the forts, harbours and early sail and steam vessels have all disappeared. Fortunately, they have left us with a record of their passing in the form of archaeological sites. Of all the environments within which these sites occur, none provides the degree of preservation afforded by the cold, fresh water of Ontario's lakes and rivers. The Great Lakes, with their many well preserved shipwreck sites, have become one of the greatest "outdoor" museums of shipping history in the world.

Ontario's submerged cultural resources are valuable to the Province on a number of levels. There is of course the archaeological and historical value of sites which, because of their state or preservation, offer information and understanding of the past and interpretative opportunities for museums not provided by land sites. Because of this preservation, shipwreck sites attract thousands of recreational SCUBA divers every year. Sports diving is fun and challenging. It is a multi-million dollar industry in Ontario. Sports diving also supports a thriving dive chartering industry with spin-offs for hotels, camp grounds, restaurants and other local businesses.

When SCUBA equipment became widely available for recreational use in the late 1950's the looting of shipwrecks in the Great lakes became endemic. Souvenir hunters and wreckstrippers can seriously degrade or destroy both the historic and commercial value of a submerged site. Some newly discovered shipwrecks have been reduced from pristine time capsules to stripped hulks in as little as two weekends.

The marine heritage conservation movement in Ontario has adopted a site conservation philosophy of "no artifact removal".

In spite of excellent preservation underwater, artifacts can deteriorate rapidly when exposed to air unless they are given extremely expensive conservation treatment. Also most divers do not have a sufficient degree of training in marine archaeology to allow them to accurately record artifacts before removal and to retrieve them without damage. By protecting the wreck in place, with associated artifacts, the entire value of the ship is maintained. Exceptions may be made if artifacts must be removed because they are endangered, or for research and interpretative purposes, but only when a conservation plan is in place.

The Marine Heritage Conservation Program works closely with volunteer organisations such as Save Ontario shipwrecks to stop the destruction of Ontario's submerged sites through a balanced strategy of persuasion, programs and regulation. Education and training form a fundamental part of this strategy. For more information about Ontario's programs to protect Ontario's marine heritage, please contact staff of the Marine Heritage Conservation Program in Ottawa.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples

(reprinted courtesy of the Canadian Archaeological Association)


The objectives of the Canadian Archaeological Association include the promotion, protection and conservation of the archaeological heritage of Canada, and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge. Canadian archaeologists conduct their activities according to the principles of scholarly practice and recognize the interests of groups affected by their research. Whereas the heritage of First Nations Peoples constitutes the greater part of the Canadian archaeological record, this document presents a Statement of Principles that guides members of the Association in their relationships with Aboriginal peoples.


Members of the CAA/ACA agree to abide by the following principles:

I Consultation:

1. To recognize the cultural and spiritual links between Aboriginal peoples and the archaeological record.

2. To acknowledge that Aboriginal people have a fundamental interest in the protection and management of the archaeological record, its interpretation and presentation.

3. To recognize and respect the role of Aboriginal communities in matters relating to their heritage.

4. To negotiate and respect protocols, developed in consultation with Aboriginal communities, relating to the conduct of archaeological activities dealing with Aboriginal culture.

II Aboriginal Involvement:

1. To encourage partnerships with Aboriginal communities in archaeological research, management and education, based on respect and mutual sharing of knowledge and expertise.

2. To support formal training programs in archaeology for Aboriginal people.

3. To support the recruitment of Aboriginal people as professional archaeologists.

III Sacred Sites and Places:

1. To recognize and respect the spiritual bond that exists between Aboriginal peoples and special places and features on the landscape.

2. To acknowledge the cultural significance of human remains and associated objects to Aboriginal peoples.

3. To respect protocols governing the investigation, removal, curation and reburial of human remains and associated objects.

IV Communication and Interpretation:

1. To respect the cultural significance of oral history and traditional knowledge in the interpretation and presentation of the archaeological record of Aboriginal peoples.

2. To communicate the results of archaeological investigations to Aboriginal communities in a timely and accessible manner.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Saving Our Built Heritage

(reprinted courtesy of Canadian Heritage News, July 2002)

Most Canadians would be shocked to know that over the past 30 years more than 20% of the historic buildings in our cities and towns have been lost to the wrecker's ball! Many of those buildings have played a significant role in our national development. The Historic Places Initiative of Canadian Heritage is going to help reverse that trend by helping communities preserve and protect their built heritage. The first steps are now underway with the development of a register of up to 20,000 historic places. Pilot projects are testing conservation standards and guidelines in cooperation with experts at the municipal and provincial levels. There will be a certification process to eventually make financial incentives available to private sector developers for the redevelopment of historic places. The Department of Canadian Heritage and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are working closely together on the development and implementation of this very important initiative. Other measures to ensure heritage protection for Canada's historic places are also anticipated.

Looking at Careers -- Historical Archaeology

(reprinted courtest of the Society for Historical Archaeology-click on the above link to be forwarded to their website)

If someone asked you to draw an archaeologist, what kind of picture would you produce? Would it resemble Indiana Jones at a temple, complete with whip and machete in far-off India or in a cavern crawling with poisonous snakes? Or would it look more like a studious Howard Carter, peering through an opening at the gold and treasures of King Tut' tomb.

Although some modern-day historical archaeologists have adventures like Indy's or find treasures like King Tut's tomb, most have more in common with detective Sherlock Holmes, because they are trying, to solve the mysteries of the past. That is why a historical archaeologist will sweat for days under the hot sun to carefully extract tiny bits of pottery from the ground or spend hours in the laboratory, trying to fit together pieces of an 18th-century wine bottle. By examining seed and pollen grains through the microscope, other historical archaeologists discover what plants people ate centuries ago. And nearly all historical archaeologists spend many hours at a computer, fitting all of these pieces of evidence together into a portrait of people, places, and events of the past.

So historical archaeology is more than just a treasure hunt. It is a challenging search for clues to the people, events, and places of the past. Archaeology's quest for the past occurs not just in far-off locations, but right in our own back yards. Today's archaeologist uses skills and knowledge, rather than guns and bullwhips, to make the past come alive. On this page, you will discover how a modern professional archaeologist works and how you can become part of this challenging field.

What Is Archaeology? Archaeology is a way of studying the past based on the remains of things that earlier people left behind or discarded. These remains include both the objects used by people long ago, called artifacts, and the buildings, structures, and landscapes where people lived, known as sites. Archaeological sites can be found anywhere where humans have stayed, lived, or worked in the past. By carefully collecting and examining all of the evidence from a site, archaeologists help us to understand how our ancestors met the challenges of life in the past.

As in any other profession, fields of specialization exist in archaeology. What period of history, area of the world, or skill interests you the most? Take your pick! There is something for everyone!

For example, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson searches in Africa for the fossilized bones of our earliest ancestors. Prehistoric archaeologist Dennis Stanford looks for traces of the earliest Americans. Physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley helps to identify the bones of soldiers killed at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Conservators like Betty Seifert use their knowledge of chemistry to preserve the artifacts recovered from sites, so that these objects will be available for future study.

Historical archaeology is a specialized subdiscipline within the field of archaeology. Historical archaeologists study not only artifacts and sites, but also the documents written about the people and places they are studying. Kathleen Deegan investigates the earliest Spanish settlements in Florida, while James Deetz studies 20th-century coal-mining camps in California. Urban archaeologist Pamela Cressey excavates the shops and houses of 19th-century Alexandria, Virginia. Doug Scott examines the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana where the Sioux and Cheyenne defeated Custer. Underwater archaeologist George Bass dives on ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. And all of them depend on research historians like Amy Friedlander and Victor Geraci to find old documents and maps to help explain the artifacts and features which they find in the ground.

From the Arctic to the tropics; on land and underwater; in the field, the laboratory, the library, or the office specialists from many fields work together to help archaeologists unravel the many mysteries of the past.

Becoming an Archaeologist

It is never too early to think about a career in archaeology. Like most other professionals, an archaeologist must be able to read and write well, understand and appreciate history, and be comfortable using scientific methods and equipment. Getting "hands-on" experience is a very good way to begin. Many archaeologists start in high school as volunteers with their local non- professional archaeological societies. As volunteers help archaeologists on sites and in laboratories, they come to know what archaeological work is really like. Experience with such groups has helped many people find out whether they want to pursue a career in archaeology.

Today's archaeologists are all college or university graduates. Many of them majored in anthropology, a science that looks at how and why groups of people act the way they do. Studying subjects like history, biology, and chemistry prepares archaeologists to analyze the many different kinds of information that they must use in order to solve the puzzles of the past.

Participating in a field school is an important part of an archaeologist's training. A field school teaches all of the techniques that are used to excavate sites, analyze the artifacts, and interpret what is found on an archaeological site.

In graduate school, archaeologists study the special branch of archaeology that interests them most. As you learned in the previous section, there are choices that fit almost any interest.

What Kinds of Jobs Do Archaeologists Do?

In general, archaeologists find jobs in one of four types of workplaces: in universities, in government, with private research firms, and with museums and historic sites.

College and university archaeologists spend much of their time teaching students. They often organize and run field schools that help their students learn the proper methods of archaeological research. Archaeologists who work for national, state, and local governments help to enforce laws that protect archaeological sites and also educate the public about archaeology. For example, every state has a state archaeologist who supervises projects and deals with issues that affect their state's archaeological resources. Many archaeologists work for private consulting companies which are hired by businesses and government agencies that need archaeological services. Some companies are very specialized; for example, one Midwest firm analyzes the chemical content of soil samples from archaeological sites all over the country. The museums and historic sites that you and your friends visit and enjoy often hire archaeologists to curate, or take care of, their collections of artifacts and plan special events and exhibits.

What Are the Rewards of Being an Archaeologist?

As in any other career, the salaries earned by archaeologists vary depending on the kind of work they do and the skills and training that they have. Some archaeological workers earn hourly wages; others have annual salaries that range from $16,000 to over $50,000 per year. Permanent positions usually offer standard benefits; temporary jobs do not.

But most archaeologists will tell you that their biggest rewards do not come from earning large salaries. The thrill of handling an object perhaps hundreds of years old, or finally figuring out what really happened on that site--these are the rewards that keep today's archaeologists working to solve the puzzles of the past.

Archaeologists: Saving the Past

The chances for today's archaeologists to study the past are growing ever fewer. Although new roads, shopping centers, homes, and other structures are needed, building them often means that archaeological sites are destroyed before they can be studied. Uninformed people who dig around old sites to add artifacts to their personal collections also threaten archaeological sites. By disturbing the ground and removing the evidence, they leave the archaeologist with fewer pieces of the puzzle to put together.

You can make a difference now. Find out more about archaeologists and how they work by reading books or by joining volunteer archaeological organizations that try to protect important sites. Let the officials in your government know that you want to help preserve the sites in your community. Most important of all, if you find a site, do not disturb it. Instead, carefully note its location, and tell your state or local archaeologist about it. By taking these actions, you can help to preserve the history of your community.

Every one of us can be a caretaker of the past, if we all recognize that archaeological sites, as part of human history, belong to all of us!


The information on this page is adapted from the society's Mapping Out a Career in Historical Archaeology brochure. This pamphlet is directed at middle school students and is designed to acquaint them with archaeology and the subdiscipline of historical archaeology. Copies of the brochure may be obtained by contacting the society at: Society for Historical Archaeology, 15245 Shady Grove Road, Ste. 130, Rockville, MD 20850, Phone: 301-990-2454, Fax: 301-990-9771, Email:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Principles of Ethical Conduct

(reprinted courtesy of the Canadian Archaeological Association)


The objectives of the Canadian Archaeological Association include promoting, protecting and conserving the archaeological heritage of Canada, and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge. Canadian archaeologists conduct their activities according to the principles of scholarly practice and recognize the interests of groups affected by their research.


We expect that the members of the CAA will exercise respect for archaeological remains and for those who share an interest in these irreplaceable and non-renewable resources now and in the future. The archaeological record includes in-situ materials and sites, archaeological collections, records and reports. Stewardship involves having care for and promoting the conservation of the archaeological record. This record is unique, finite and fragile. CAA members should acknowledge:

1) access to knowledge from the past is an essential part of the heritage of everyone;
2) conservation is a preferred option;
3) where conservation is not an option, ensure accurate recording and dissemination of results;
4) excavations should be no more invasive/destructive than determined by mitigation circumstances or comprehensive research goals; and,
5) the commodification of archaeological sites and artifacts through selling and trading is unethical.

Aboriginal Relationships

Recognizing that the heritage of Aboriginal Peoples constitutes the greater part of the Canadian archaeological record, the Canadian Archaeological Association has accepted the Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples. Members of the Association have agreed to abide by those Principles.

Professional Responsibilities

Archaeological remains are finite, fragile, non-renewable and unique. Before undertaking responsibility for any excavation that destroys a portion of the archaeological record, members of the Canadian Archaeological Association must:

1) keep abreast of developments in their specializations;
2) possess adequate training, support, resources and facilities to undertake excavation and analysis;
3) produce an adequate document worthy of the destruction of the archaeological remains;
4) present archaeology and research results in a timely and responsible manner;
5) preserve documentation in such a way that it is of value to future researchers;
6) comply with all legislation and local protocols with Aboriginal Peoples, as described in the Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples, as appropriate in each province and/or territory;
7) respect colleagues, and cooperate with them;
8) allow the expression of alternative views of the past;
9) exercise the right to defend our own scholarship;
10) recognize that documentation of an archaeological record should, within a reasonable period of time, become available to others with legitimate research interests; and,
11) present archaeological information in an objective and well informed manner in all contexts.

Public Education and Outreach

A fundamental commitment to stewardship is the sharing of knowledge about archaeological topics to a broader public and to enlist public support for stewardship. Members of the CAA are encouraged to:

1) communicate the results of archaeological work to a broad audience;
2) encourage the public to support and involvement in archaeological stewardship;
3) actively cooperate in stewardship of archaeological remains with aboriginal peoples;
4) promote public interest in, and knowledge of, Canada’s past;
5) explain appropriate archaeological methods and techniques to interested people;
6) promote archaeology through education in the K-12 school systems;
7) support and be accessible to local archaeological and other heritage groups; and,
8) contribute to the CAA Web Page, and promote where appropriate electronic publication of archaeological materials.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Land Based Archaeology in Ontario

Land-Based Archaeology

(reprinted from Ontario's Ministry of Culture website)

At one time or another during the 10,000 years or so since the final retreat of the great ice sheets of the last ice age, people have lived just about everywhere in the Province. The age-old combination of curiosity and human need has led people into every corner of Ontario, from Pelee Island in Lake Erie to West Pen Island, by the Manitoba border in Hudson Bay. Of course, Ontario is an easy province to get around in. After all, it was common at one time to travel the 3,000 kilometres by canoe from Montreal to Thunder Bay and back during the course of one summer, and the Province possesses a remarkably extensive network of lakes and rivers. An equally extensive system of overland trails was also established over time, and if for some reason it proved difficult to get somewhere in the spring, summer, or fall, it was always possible to move there swiftly and directly in the winter. It is safe to say that even the earliest post-glacial settlers of Ontario were accomplished all-season travellers by land and water.

How do we know what it was like to live north of the Great Lakes after the retreat of the glaciers? Since the mid-1500s, we have had the written chronicles of European excursions and adventures through the activities of colonial exploration and expansion, trade, and religious conversion, along with access to the rich oral traditions and histories of our Native peoples. However, even the best of such accounts do not fully describe what day-to-day life was like for the average person even in relatively recent times, let alone over the many millenia during which the Province was occupied before the first Europeans set foot on Ontario's shores and in its forests. In order to better understand the lives and times of those peoples of long ago, we must turn to the actual physical traces of their past activities which remain in the ground bearing silent witness to their presence. This means we must turn our attention to see what can be discovered from the archaeological record.

Ontarians are very fortunate to have a rich and diverse archaeological record. Our early peoples may not have left monuments on a scale as large as in some other countries, but what they did leave for us to discover, our archaeological patrimony, is just as old and just as interesting. In Ontario, archaeological sites include aboriginal hunting and fishing camps, village sites, traces of routes of travel, battlefields, trading posts, and include the remains of the very earliest period of human occupation, when Ontario was an arctic tundra and people survived largely by hunting caribou, giant bison, and even mastodons.

Archaeology is the study of past human culture and civilisation through the scientific investigation of items and materials left on or below the surface of the earth or under water. Archaeology is a technically-disciplined approach to the collection, analysis and interpretation of cultural information using materials and methods derived from virtually every other field of scientific enquiry. Its value lies in the fact that it provides an intellectual framework within which the results of scientific investigation can be applied to the understanding of human beings and their cultures in relation to each other and to their physical environment. Archaeological techniques can be applied to any data from land or marine subsurface deposits found anywhere in the world, but their use tends to be focussed on sites of previous human settlement.
Archaeological investigations now concentrate on collecting information and understanding its meaning, rather than on just collecting artifacts. In fact, archaeologists prefer to leave artifacts in-situ whenever possible so that they can be preserved in context for study by future generations, who will have better tools and techniques.

Archaeological investigations in Ontario are carried out by a variety of dedicated people, who range from academic researchers and professional consultants, to avocational archaeologists who go out on weekends to study sites. Regardless of the person involved, archaeological investigations in Ontario are undertaken by people who are licensed by the Province and who report their findings to the Province so that the information resulting from their endeavours will not be lost. Ontario now has a thriving community of professional archaeologists who assist in addressing the impact of development on archaeological resources.

The staff of the Archaeology and Heritage Planning Unit provide technical support, training, conservation, public education, and resource management for our fragile and non-renewable archaeological heritage resources. In order to best serve the needs of the public and of the resource, the unit maintains regional archaeological offices in Kenora, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, and London. For more information on programs and services, please call the office closest to your area of interest.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Welcome to The Central Archaeology Group's blog.

If you have any comments, concerns, questions, or suggestions please post them here. Keeping you informed about archaeology, cultural heritage, and built heritage is what we hope to do.

CAG is committed to preserving archaeological and cultural heritage. We believe that the protection of this non-renewable resource is imperative to present and future Canadians because not only is it important to continued development within each province, but it also underlines and identifies a distinctive Canadian culture.