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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

So you have found something interesting, what now? Dealing with Artifacts you came across

Our world has been walked on by previous generations, those people have left us some clues to their lives. These artifacts crop up from time to time, so if you find them what do you do?

From Merriam-Webster

Definition of artifact

1a: a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object especially : an object remaining from a particular period

b: something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual

Artifacts and archeological sites should be respected. It isn't a renewable resource, and they are disappearing everyday.

Dealing with Human remains:

Well first of all, if you find human remains, they must be treated with the proper respect. All work must be stopped and the proper authorities called in. Police need to determine if the remains are historical or something they should be investigating. At all times, all human remains need to be reported. If you are unsure in any way, report it to the Police.

According to: UNEARTHING THE LAW Archaeological Legislation on Lands in Canada

The laws are clear about what to do in the event of accidental discoveries. This applies to the discovery of artifacts, and particularly to the discovery of human remains. (Rules for the latter are extremely important, because it may not be clear at the time whether this is the discovery of an archaeological site or of a crime scene.) 2 The provincial and territorial laws are unanimous in stating that a discovery (whether of human remains or not) as part of an archaeological research project, under permit, must be reported by the archaeologist to the relevant provincial or territorial authorities. In the event of the accidental discovery of human remains, the law specifies that one must: • halt activities, • secure the area and • call the police. The police will determine whether the site is a possible crime scene, or whether it is “archaeological,” whereupon they will contact the relevant authorities accordingly. It is recommended (although it is not mandatory) that if human remains or archaeological objects are discovered, the archaeologist should consult with nearby populations who are most likely to be descended from the people whose remains or property have been revealed. You should never deal with remains on your own, they deserve your respect. In most cases, police should be called and it is their call on whether the remains constitute a crime site or an archeological one.

Human remains aside, you've found an artifact, now what? Well, would you pull a rare plant out of the ground and bring it to a biologist to identify the plant. If you do you kill the plant, and in some ways, you kill an artifacts history when you remove it from it's place.

If the artifact is already removed from it's location, there really isn't much you can do, so there is still information that can be achieved. So what do you do. I see a lot of people hide their artifacts because they are afraid someone will take them.

Going back to Unearthing the Law:And who owns the find? • In all provinces and territories except Ontario and Quebec, discovered artifacts belong to the provincial/territorial Crown or its agents. • The Ontario Heritage Act says that artifacts held without a licence are seizable, but not to whom they belong. The Common Law, however, says that they usually belong to the landowner. • In Quebec, finds belong to the Crown on land that has been public land at any time since 1972; on land that has been private, finds are co-owned by the landowner and finder. In practice, and despite occasional divergences in wording, the laws throughout Canada disclose a common legislative intent: archaeology is important to Canada, and Canadians should not abuse their archaeological heritage any more than they would tear pages out of their family history. Although the statutes governing archaeology continue to evolve, they are the essential framework for future efforts to protect and understand this important part of Canada’s heritage.

So this is a little unclear, but it would appear if the artifact was found on your land then you are at least co-owner, this does make the situation a little unclear. In the end the Heritage Act does make it clear that Archeological heritage should not be abused. Hopefully the act will evolve to make this a little more clear. As it is there are plenty of artifacts that have been lost, so are they any less valuable in private collections? This is something I struggle to comprehend, as artifacts I helped move to a museum are now just in storage. But as the artifacts have thanked me for the attention I gave them, I hope the situation finds them on display in the future.

Finders keepers? Not if you have found something on crown land. (and similarly on someone else's land, as the ownership goes to the landowner.) Artifacts found on Crown Land should be reported to the proper people in order that their location be properly assessed.

Now, the problem with many of these regulations is that it promotes the hiding of these artifacts, and therefore any knowledge they may have held is lost forever. So somewhere there must be a compromise, shouldn't there.

One of the biggest hurdles of having an artifact assessed is the fear of it being seized. On the most part artifacts should not be seized from your possession, but we all know and have heard of situations where they have been. The old saying of possession is 9/10 th of the law is somewhat apropos here, but there is paperwork that can and should be filled out if you are loaning your property out for assessment or display.

Identifying an artifact

If you want it identified, then contact your local archeologist organization. In Ontario, The Ontario archeological society(OAS) would be a good place to start.

The Ontario Archaeological Society(Ontario Archaeological Society - Home ( is a registered charitable organization that promotes the ethical practice of archaeology. The general public, students and professional alike are encouraged to become members of the Society and to support its coordinating role in helping to record and preserve our non-renewable cultural heritage.

So what kinds of things constitute artifacts. Artifacts are often limited to materials that are somewhat durable. Things that can rot away, such as textiles, or furs do often become lost to us. Sometimes all that is left of villages are dark spots in the ground.

Lithics (stone tools) are an example of artifacts. These can be either knapped, where the craftsman chips the harden stone. (Think breaking glass to and edge. In fact some of the stone used is in fact natural glass like Obsidian. Only around here there is more of a hard chert material used. ) Arrow heads and knives were made by knapping.

The other form of lithics is ground stone, this is usually a hard material like granite, which they grind down with sand to make tools. Axes and celts were made by grinding.

Pottery is also a form of artifact that can be found. This is of a fired clay type. Often only shards remain and they are especially important to retain the positioning, in order to perhaps find all the pieces.

Smoking pipes made either of fired clay or a soft stone called pipestone are also fairly common. These pipes have a variety of shapes and styles.

Moving along to contact era, trade goods, made of metal are artifacts that can be found. Axes, knives and copper kettles were very popular trade goods. They were not only kept in their original shape but also broken up, or cut, into smaller tools as well.

Moving further along the timeline to early settler times can produce artifacts such as square nails, axes and farm implements, some wood remains, such as wagons and cabins. But above all there are often only foundations that remain.

Artifacts are seldom found alone, often the artifacts location can lead to other artifacts being unearthed. So reporting of these sites is important. Unfortunately the regulations in Ontario do not promote a site found that is not being developed to have a site investigated.

However checking with the Ministry of Culture Recreation and Citizenship website:

What happens during an archaeological assessment? During the first three stages, the consultant archaeologist will:

  • Discover any archaeological resources on the lands that are being developed;

  • Determine the degree of cultural heritage value of any archaeological resources found on the property;

  • Recommend the most appropriate strategies for conserving archaeological sites prior to land development activities.

The consultant archaeologist will recommend a fourth stage — mitigation of development impacts — where warranted. Not all stages will be necessary for all projects. Stage 1: background study and property inspection The consultant archaeologist determines whether there is potential for archaeological sites on the property. He or she reviews geographic, land use and historical information for the property and the relevant surrounding area, visits the property to inspect its current condition and contacts this ministry to find out whether or not there are any known archaeological sites on or near the property. A Stage 2 assessment is required when the consultant archaeologist identifies areas of archaeological potential.

Stage 2: property assessment The consultant archaeologist surveys the land to identify any archaeological resources on the property being developed. For a ploughed field, he or she will walk back and forth over it looking for artifacts on the surface. In forests, overgrown pasture areas or any other places that cannot be ploughed, he or she will dig parallel rows of small holes, called test pits, down to sterile subsoil at regular intervals and sift the soil to look for artifacts. He or she may use other strategies if properties are paved, covered in fill or have deeply buried former topsoils (such as floodplains or former sand dunes). The consultant archaeologist will help determine whether any archaeological resources found are of sufficient cultural heritage value or interest to require Stage 3 assessment. Stage 3: site-specific assessment This stage is for all archaeological sites that may be of cultural heritage value or interest. The consultant archaeologist accurately determines the size of the archaeological site, evaluates its cultural heritage value or interest and, where necessary, makes recommendations for Stage 4 mitigation strategies. To this end, he or she conducts further background research and fieldwork that expands the information gathered in Stage 2. He or she maps the spatial limits of a site and acquires further information about the site's characteristics by excavating one-metre by one-metre square test units across the site. Based on circumstances, some sites, for example ones that have been paved or are deeply buried, may require specialized methods of assessment. Stage 4: mitigation of development impacts This stage involves implementing conservation strategies for archaeological sites that are of cultural heritage value or interest. Determining the best approach for conserving the site may include reviewing possible strategies with the development proponent, the municipality or other approval authority, Aboriginal communities, and other heritage stakeholders. Conserving archaeological sites that have cultural heritage value or interest does not mean stopping development. Conservation can involve putting long-term protection measures in place around an archaeological site to protect it intact. The site is then avoided while development proceeds around it. This is called protection ‘in situ’ and is always the preferred option for mitigation of development impacts to a site. If protection is not viable, mitigation can involve documenting and removing an archaeological site, through excavation, before development takes place. Long-term avoidance and protection Unless long-term protection measures are in place, an archaeological site is not considered truly protected. The consultant archaeologist will provide the development proponent with recommendations for an avoidance and long-term protection strategy. These can include protection measures such as restrictive covenants on title, zoning by-law amendments or the transfer of land ownership to a municipality or other public land-holding body. Ontario's Heritage Toolkit outlines these and other long-term protection measures. Excavation If circumstances do not allow a site to be protected in situ, the site may be excavated before construction begins. The purpose of excavation is to document the site through measurements, maps, drawings and photographs and to remove artifacts. Report to the ministry After completing an archaeological assessment, the consultant archaeologist develops and sends a report to this ministry. We review the report to ensure that:

  • The licensed archaeologist met the terms and conditions of his or her licence, including the ministry's requirements for fieldwork and reporting.

  • Any archaeological sites found were properly conserved.

Now this also seems to be a long and intimidating process, but historically it is very important. Not all of these steps will occur automatically and only a very significant site will see any work on it, if at all. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be reported.

When discussing artifacts, or sites, there is

On a personal note, if you find something and you want it assessed, I can help with that. Send me a picture and I will do the best I can to identify it. To be clear I am not an archeologist, but will find someone in the field to help with identification.

Art Duval

Pipesmoke of the Past

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