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How Significant Must a Discovery Be?

The laws cited above refer frequently to archaeological items being of "archaeological," "prehistoric" or "historic," "significance" or "importance" (or words to that effect). How important must an archaeological find be, in order to trigger this legislation? The answer is that any archaeological discovery is considered significant for purposes of the law. The rationale is explained by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which supervises administration of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

[A] cultural heritage resource is a human work or a place that gives evidence of human activity or has spiritual or cultural meaning, and that has historic value.... This interpretation of cultural resources can be applied to a wide range of resources, including... archaeological sites, structures, engineering works, artifacts and associated records.... Not all valued cultural heritage resources have official designation status and therefore may not always be identified in government heritage registries. They may not even be formally recognized or documented.37

Another federal report explained it this way.

It does not follow...that archaeological resources which are not of national importance have nothing to contribute to Canada's archaeological heritage. In fact, much of what we know about Canada's archaeological past results from an accretion of knowledge of individual sites and artifacts that collectively acquire an importance unheralded by the apparent insignificance of any particular one.38

That "lack of recognition" is even truer in the field. The problem is that when one discovers an item in the ground, it is not always obvious how old it is, or what it was used for.

The path of caution therefore appears to be:

  • Plan ahead: learn as much as possible about potential archaeological resources before they are uncovered, by doing professional survey work.

  • When in doubt about what has been found, call on archaeological expertise.
EXTRACTS (NON-EXHAUSTIVE) FROM THE CANADIAN CULTURAL PROPERTY EXPORT CONTROL LIST, A REGULATION UNDER THE CULTURAL PROPERTY EXPORT AND IMPORT ACT

In this Order, "object" means an object that

  1. is not less than 50 years old; and
  2. was made by a...person who is no longer living (Section 2).
GROUP 1: OBJECTS RECOVERED FROM THE SOIL OR WATERS OF CANADA

In this Group, "artifact" means an object made or reworked by a person or persons and associated with historic or prehistoric cultures (Subsection 1).

Palaeontological specimens recovered from the soil of Canada, the territorial sea of Canada or the inland or other internal waters of Canada, as follows:

  1. a type of fossil specimen of any value;
  2. fossil amber of any value....
  1. An archaeological object of any value recovered from the soil of Canada, the territorial sea of Canada or the inland or other internal waters of Canada not less than 75 years after its burial, concealment or abandonment if the object is an artifact or organic remains, including human remains, associated with or representative of historic cultures.

  2. Without restricting the generality of subitem (1), archaeological objects described in that subitem include

  1. artifacts that relate to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, namely,

    1. arrow heads, harpoon heads and such other projectile points used as hunting implements,

    2. adzes, axes, awls, celts, chisels and such other tools and agricultural implements,

    3. clubs, tomahawks and such other weapons,

    4. harpoon heads, fish hooks, sinkers, and such other fishing implements,

    5. pipes, vessels, potsherds and such other pottery,

    6. effigies, rock drawings, wampum and such other ceremonial and religious articles, and

    7. beads, articles of adornment and such other objects used as trading goods;


  2. artifacts that relate to the progressive exploration, occupation, defence and development of the territory that is now Canada by non-aboriginal peoples, namely,

    1. arms, accoutrements, fragments of uniforms, buckles, badges, buttons, and such other objects related to military activity,

    2. beads, articles of adornment and such other objects used as trading goods associated with the fur trade,

    3. hunting, fishing and trapping implements,

    4. ordnance, ship's gear, anchors and such other objects related to naval activity,

    5. religious paraphernalia and such other objects related to missionary activity,

    6. coins, cargo from shipwrecks or sunken ships and such other objects related to transportation, supply and commerce,

    7. utensils, implements, tools, weapons, household articles and such other objects related to early settlement and pioneer life, and

    8. machinery and such other objects related to manufacture and industry; and


  3. organic remains associated with or representative of historic or prehistoric cultures (Subsection 4).