Parks Canada Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys


This section offers some basic principles, guidelines, requirements, and recommended references for organizing archaeological field projects. Different working environments and available resources will dictate various approaches. There is, however, a set of functions that should be taken into consideration to improve the success of any archaeological field project. These are outlined below.


5.1.1 Archaeological Research Permits

Ensure that all required archaeological research permits have been approved and signed; and take signed copies with you in the field. The requirements are outlined in Management Bulletin 2.3.2. Archaeological Research Permitting (Parks Canada 2005a). If applicable, ensure that provincial or territorial archaeological research permits are acquired and approved in addition to the Parks Canada permit (e.g., in a non-gazetted National Park of Canada).

5.1.2 Occupational Health and Safety Requirements

Parks Canada and its employees are subject to the Canada Labour Code - Part II, Occupational Health and Safety. In addition, they must also comply with the Parks Canada Occupational Heath and Safety Policy. The policy states: “each employee is responsible for applying this policy in their work activities and to all persons granted access to our workplaces.” ‘Persons’ include contractors, students, volunteers, the general public and others.” For detailed information and guidance on the legal obligations consult the Canada Labour Code website, or the Parks Canada Intranet. The latter provides comprehensive information and tools for employers and employees.

5.1.3 Key Parks Canada Documents

Key references to Parks Canada policies, guidelines, directives, legislation, and regulations, which provide context for the conduct of archaeological investigations in Parks Canada, are found in Sections 12.8, 12.9, and 12.10 of this manual. All crewmembers should be familiar with the documents pertinent to their field project.

For general guidance, consult the Parks Canada Guidelines for the Management of Archaeological Resources (Parks Canada 2005b), which outlines the manner in which all of these documents apply to given situations. Also consult the Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policies (1994), which contains Parks Canada’s CRM Policy, as noted earlier.

When planning interventions at a NHSC or a FHBRO building, refer to the recently released Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada (Parks Canada 2003d). The Standards and Guidelines were designed in the spirit of the Parks Canada CRM Policy, and will soon offer a more elaborate section pertaining to archaeology.

5.1.4 Human Remains, Cemeteries, and Burial Grounds

Cemeteries, burial grounds, human remains, funerary objects, and grave markers found on federal Crown lands, lands under water, and in waters under the administration and control of Parks Canada are managed in accordance with Management Directive 2.3.1: Human Remains, Cemeteries and Burial Grounds (Parks Canada 2000). The directive applies to all human remains, and their associated sites and material culture, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. A brief summary of the contents of MD 2.3.1 is provided in Appendix G.

5.1.5 Functional Coordination

As required, consult with the Collections Manager, Archaeological Database Administrator, and Conservator at the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre to coordinate requirements for data recording, field conservation, and processing, packing and shipping of archaeological items. For example, the Principal Investigator should contact the appropriate Parks Canada staff to determine which proveniences have already been assigned, as well as the next available proveniences.

5.1.6 Final Agreements and Consultation with Aboriginal Groups

A number of final comprehensive land claim agreements have been signed. These agreements are legally binding documents that outline treaty rights that are constitutionally protected. Some agreements include provisions relating to culture, heritage and archaeology. As these agreements bind the federal Crown, Parks Canada must adhere to sections and clauses in the agreements pertaining to archaeology and archaeological resources on federal Crown lands and lands under water under its administration and control.

Also, as stated in Parks Canada (2005b), it is good practice - and may be a legal requirement - to inform all interested parties, including affected Aboriginal groups, when an archaeological activity may impact upon their cultural heritage.

Key elements pertaining to final agreements and consultation are outlined in Parks Canada Guidelines for the Management of Archaeological Resources (Parks Canada 2005b) and Management Bulletin 2.3.2. Archaeological Research Permitting (Parks Canada 2005a).


  • If feasible, a sheltered area on, or near, the site should be reserved for use as a “field office” and/or lab, where all completed records (notebooks, forms, maps, etc.) are stored and filed, and where archaeological objects can be cleaned and processed and prepared for shipment, if required.
  • Effort should be made to ensure that each assistant has some separate space in the field office or field camp for completing his or her field recording duties and maintenance of equipment, and that each person has some free time during the day to work on these records and equipment.
  • The Principal Investigator should delegate responsibilities among field assistants so that there is no confusion as to what each person is expected to do. For example, it may be feasible or desirable to make one assistant responsible for all photography and another for all mapping and instrument surveying.
  • Where possible, the Principal Investigator should designate an individual in each field crew whose main duties are those of the Field Records Clerk. This person reports directly to the Principal Investigator and coordinates the recording activities of the field assistants, and must be thoroughly familiar with the procedures laid out by the Principal Investigator. The clerk is responsible for the security, integrity, accuracy, and completeness of files and records.


The following, in brief, are essential principles in the organization of records for archaeological excavations and surveys:

  • know the requirements of the recording system, and anticipate difficulties in meeting the requirements in order to marshal the necessary strategies to overcome them;
  • plan the recording procedures before the excavation or survey begins;
  • make explicit the procedures and the flow of records, files, archaeological objects, and the duties of each individual assistant in a given field project;
  • provide adequate time and facilities for record keeping, meeting the necessary standards of correctness and completeness;
  • wherever feasible, the clerical tasks of record keeping should be assigned to a specific person (such as a Field Records Clerk, described in Section 5.2 above), not distributed among the assistants;
  • records with multiple copies (paper or digital) that need to go to different individuals, stored securely, or be sent back to the Parks Canada Service Centre should be clearly marked as each copy is completed;
  • for larger projects, plan the layout of the records area in such a way that the flow of records is simple and obvious to each person working there;
  • clearly mark where things are to go during processing and where they are to be stored when completed as it is important that all the records should be readily accessible to all individuals responsible for recording;
  • be aware of, and prepared to deal with, errors in recording.


The following references provide detailed directions for conducting excavations and surveys, most with an emphasis on Canadian archaeology. These are recommended for all archaeological excavation or survey projects conducted by Parks Canada archaeologists. If used, their application must be adapted to conform to the recording requirements outlined in the present Manual, and take into account recent developments in technology. To provide broader context, Section 11.0 Recommended Reading lists a number of other current standard references that are used internationally. For information regarding current Collections Management standards and procedures, please contact the Collections Manager for the appropriate Parks Canada Service Centre. Also, for information regarding underwater archaeology at Parks Canada, contact Underwater Archaeological Services at the Ontario Service Centre, and see the Bibliography.

5.4.1 Basic Archaeological Field Procedures

  • Fladmark, Knut R. (1978) A Guide to Basic Archaeological Field Procedures. Publication No. 4, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia.

Fladmark’s guide provides detailed information on basic excavation and survey procedures, as well as suggestions for proper care and handling of field equipment, a glossary containing common technical terms, and numerous other helpful aids for the conduct of field projects. Though it was intended as a basic guide to archaeological fieldwork (and parts of the guide are outdated) it arguably remains the most comprehensive and practical field manual used by Canadian archaeologists. As a result, it is recommended as the default field manual reference for Parks Canada archaeologists, where a more current manual in unavailable.

5.4.2 Archaeological Surveys/Inventories

  • British Columbia Archaeological Inventory Guidelines (2000) Version 1, Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture, Archaeology Branch, British Columbia.

This document is currently available on the Government of British Columbia website, under the Archaeology section. Though specific to British Columbia, it is an excellent guide to the conduct of archaeological surveys or inventories, with general application to Canadian archaeology. It addresses the need to rigorously define research or resource management goals and objectives, and to outline the past and present physical and cultural landscape of the study areas. In addition, it includes recommendations for using a combination of judgmental surveying and statistically valid sampling techniques, basic mapping standards, and a suggested reporting format for archaeological inventories, which can all be adapted for Parks Canada use.

5.4.3 Field Conservation

  • Parks Canada (1985) Management Directive 2.1.22: Collection Management System: Conservation Services. Appendices modified in 1991. Parks Canada, Ottawa.

Parks Canada archaeological conservators recommend Management Directive 2.1.22 for direction on general conservation of archaeological items in the field, supplemented by any pertinent manual as situations warrant. The references below represent two such manuals.

  • Bergeron, André et France Rémillard (2000) L’Archéologue et la conservation. Vade-mecum québécois. 2e édition. Centre de conservation du Québec, Québec.

This is the standard archaeological field conservation manual for Québec archaeologists. It describes and illustrates practical procedures for conserving archaeological items in field situations. An English version is currently unavailable.

  • Sease, Catherine (1994) A Conservation Manual for the Field Archaeologist. Third edition. UCLA Institute of Archaeology, Archaeological Research Tools, Vol. 4. Los Angeles, CA.

This has been a standard reference for many years, and still holds much relevance to practical field situations, though it is an American publication.

< Previous Page  | Table of Contents  | Next Page  >