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Other Archaeological Discoveries (Excluding Human Remains)

In theory, there are two general obligations that arise when archaeological resources are accidentally discovered:

  • to prevent disruption of the site and
  • to report the discovery to archaeological officials.

It would follow that on discovery of a site:

  • all work that could potentially threaten the site should be halted,
  • the site should be secured and
  • the competent provincial/territorial official should be notified.

In principle, these measures are intended to protect not only the artifacts, but also the site since, as in the case of a crime scene, many of the most valuable clues are in the relative location of the various objects.

Although such an unequivocal arrangement would mirror how the law deals with human remains, the statutes are not that clear in the case of archaeological discoveries where there are no human remains.

  • Half the provincial statutes include a similar requirement to report finds and to do so immediately (in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta).72

  • The laws of the other provinces and of the territories are silent on that point.

However:

  • All provinces except Ontario make it an offence to disturb the site of an archaeological find.73

  • In the Northwest Territories, one must also protect a 30–metre buffer zone around the discovery site.74

  • In Quebec, the protection is not automatic: the finder of an archaeological site is legally obliged to notify the provincial ministry "without delay,"75 whereupon the ministry races to impose an order protecting the property.

  • In Ontario, the protection is not automatic either: as in Quebec, the minister responsible for heritage can intervene by subsequently ordering the site protected by designating it under the Ontario Heritage Act if he/she finds out about it; but unlike Quebec, there is no obligation for the finder to report the discovery. However, all archaeological objects taken without the authority of a licence are subject to seizure.76

On federal lands, the rules at the Parks Canada Agency and at the Department of National Defence require that finds be reported and protected immediately. Other federal departments, however, do not have the same binding rules.