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What is Archaeology?

Excavation at the Jean-Baptiste Lainé Site (palisade wall), Courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc.

Archaeology is the study of historical human activity through physical remains. Archaeologists identify sites that were previously camps, villages, monuments, or just a concentration of old objects, and use the remains found to make deductions about past human activities.
“Field work” refers to the work done at the archaeological sites. In Ontario, these sites are typically discovered by walking the surfaces of ploughed fields or excavating test pits and screening their contents looking for artifacts. Sometimes they are discovered by accident!
Excavation doesn’t just mean shovel digging – other tools used include trowels (to scrape away dirt carefully), shaker screens (to shake through dirt to uncover smaller artifacts), and brushes.
Most of an archaeologist’s time is not spent in the field, but in the lab analyzing artifacts and trying to uncover the history of the objects found. This research includes asking how old the artifacts are, who may have used them, and what they might have been used for.
Governments ensure that land developers and archaeologists follow ethical best practices. The Planning Act (1990; and its Provincial Policy Statement 2014) and the Environmental Assessment Act (1997) are the two principal pieces of legislation that ensure that prior to any land disturbing activities, properties are searched for archaeological sites. The Ontario Heritage Act (1990) regulates archaeological practice and heritage resource conservation. In accordance with the 2011 Technical Bulletin for Consultant Archaeologists in Ontario, Indigenous communities are required to be engaged and consulted upon the discovery of Indigenous artifacts or sites.

Since archaeological excavation destroys sites, Indigenous communities, land developers, archaeologists and the government, together discuss ways of preserving all or portions of sites.