Read about the ministry’s roles and responsibilities as the regulator of archaeology in Ontario.
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Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through the investigation of archaeological sites. In Ontario, these sites can be:
- Indigenous hunting camps and villages
- pioneer homes
- burial grounds and cemeteries
- other evidence of past human activity
Ontario Heritage Act
This ministry enforces Part VI of the Ontario Heritage Act. This portion of the act determines priorities, policies and programs for the conservation of archaeological sites.
The act makes it illegal for anyone but a licensed archaeologist to knowingly disturb an archaeological site. This means that unless you are a licensed archaeologist, it is illegal for you to:
- dig an archaeological site
- dive on a shipwreck to record its condition
- remove and keep artifacts
All archaeologists who carry out fieldwork in Ontario must hold a licence issued by our minister. Their Archaeology Licence Cards include their name, licence number, type of licence and licence expiry date.
Ontario Public Register of Archaeological Reports
Section 65.1 of the Ontario Heritage Act provides for a register of archaeological reports.
As a condition of their licence, archaeologists must document the results of the fieldwork they carry out in Ontario by filing archaeological reports with this ministry.
On average, we receive approximately 3,000 archaeological reports a year from licensed archaeologists. There are over 30,000 reports on file.
Any member of the public can request a copy of any report in the register.
Before we provide reports to the public, we remove all personal information and the locations of archaeological sites in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to protect personal privacy and sensitive archaeological sites.
Reviewing archaeological reports
Ministry staff review reports to ensure the licensed archaeologist has met the terms and conditions of his or her licence, including requirements for fieldwork and reporting. We then provide the consultant archaeologist with a letter.
If the report complies with ministry requirements:
- our letter will confirm that we have entered it into the Ontario Public Register of Archaeological Reports
- approval authorities can use this letter to verify that a developer has addressed concerns for archaeological sites on a property
Ontario Archaeological Sites Database
As a condition of their licence, licensed archaeologists must file site forms with the ministry. These forms provide data and information about the archaeological sites found during fieldwork. For example:
- information about the site location and type
- cultural affinities
- location of the artifact collection
- date of research
This information is added to the Ontario Archaeological Sites Database. There are typically about 800 to 1,000 new sites added to the database each year from new archaeological investigations.
Licensed archaeologists can contact us when beginning an archaeological assessment or a research project to get information from the database about archaeological sites near the property they will be investigating.
Municipalities and First Nations regularly contact us for information from the sites database within their communities for land-use planning purposes. Researchers, engineers and lawyers acting on behalf of property owners also obtain this information to ensure sites are conserved.
Supporting licensed archaeologists, municipalities and approval authorities
Our Archaeology Review Officers support licensed archaeologists by:
- advising on technical issues related to archaeological fieldwork
- providing guidance on how to comply with the terms and conditions of their licences and meet other ministry requirements for fieldwork and reporting
- reviewing archaeological reports to ensure compliance with the Ontario Heritage Act, the terms and conditions of licence and other ministry requirements, such as the Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists
Our heritage planners support municipalities and approval authorities by providing recommendations on how to conserve archaeological resources within their communities. They help development proponents and approval authorities to determine whether archaeological sites are likely to be on a particular property.