Text Size
  • Home
    • Archaeology Frequently Asked Questions

Archaeology Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is archaeology?
  2. What is an artifact?
  3. What should you do if you find an artifact?
  4. Who owns the artifacts?
  5. Who does archaeology in the Province?
  6. Where can I find information on the prehistory or history of Newfoundland and Labrador?
  7. What do I do if I think I need an archaeologist?
  8. What is an Historic Resources Impact Assessment?
  9. Why should I stop digging just because I have found some old rocks or bones?
  10. What are my legal responsibilities if my work affects or damages an archaeological site?
  11. What if I do not stop?
  12. These artifacts were found in my town, why doesn't the town own them?
  13. How do we borrow artifacts to display in our community museum?

1. What is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of past human cultures.
In Newfoundland and Labrador archaeologists generally tend to concentrate on one of two areas of research:

Unlike historians, who learn about the past through written records, or anthropologists, who study living cultures, archaeologists gather their information from artifacts and site features.

^ Top of Page

2. What is an artifact?

An artifact is any object that has been altered or used by humans. The computer you are sitting at is a modern artifact.

Archaeologists are interested in much older artifacts, from the precontact or historic past. Archaeologists study these objects in order to understand and learn about the people who left them behind.

Archaeologists distinguish between artifacts and site features. Artifacts are portable, like stone tools, bones, pots, or bottles. Features are traces of humans that can not be moved, like fireplaces and firepits, house foundations, or wells.

Artifacts can tell a great deal about how people lived in the past, but most of this information comes from the context in which the artifact was found. For example, a single arrowhead can tell us that people were in the area, but an arrowhead found along side other artifacts and related features can tell us a great deal more about how these people lived. That is why it is so important not to move artifacts when you find them.

^ Top of Page

3. What should you do if you find an artifact?

It is against the law to look for and dig up archaeological sites and artifacts in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. However, if you happen to find an artifact or site while gardening, or out walking, you should always take careful note of exactly where and when you found it, and then report it to the Provincial Archaeology Office. They will advise you on what to do.

If you find an artifact you should not move, damage or interfere with it. It is illegal to sell or trade it, or remove it from the Province. It is also illegal to bequeath artifacts in your will. It is the law that any artifacts you may have must be returned to the Province by the person responsible for the administration of your estate. You can find the legal details in the Historic Resources Act opens new window.

The most responsible thing to do is turn the artifacts over to the Provincial Archaeology Office, they will then submit them to the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland opens new window and Labrador so that they can be available to the public as well as to students and scholars researching the Province's past.

The Rooms is the primary repository for archaeological artifacts. It was established for long term artifact curation, and has trained archaeologists and conservators to ensure that the condition of the artifacts does not deteriorate.

^ Top of Page

4. Who owns the artifacts?

Ownership of all artifacts rests with the Crown in trust for the people of the Province. The Minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation sets guidelines for their care and curation.

Artifacts cannot leave the Province without the Minister's permission, and can never be bought, sold, bequeathed, or traded.

^ Top of Page

5. Who does archaeology in the Province?

Many people conduct archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador, including archaeology graduate students and professors from Memorial University , archaeologists working with the Provincial Government, and private consulting archaeologists. Each of the following groups are involved in various aspects of archaeology in the Province, and educating people about archaeology: The Provincial Archaeology Office, the of the Rooms opens new window, the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland opens new window, and private consulting archaeologists.

  • The Provincial Archaeology Office: The PAO regulates all archaeological activity carried out in the Province. It issues permits to archaeologists and houses the reports, records, photographs, and maps resulting from this work. It is also the place to contact if you find archaeological remains or if you are planning any activities which may affect an archaeological site.
  • The Roomsopens new window: The Museum is the primary repository for all archaeological objects found in Newfoundland and Labrador. It also provides public education on the prehistory and history of the Province.
  • The Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland opens new window : The department was established to bring together scholars and students, with diverse interests and backgrounds in archaeological research, from disciplines including anthropology, history, folklore, and geography. The department is the main training facility for archaeology students in the province, and the faculty and students are very active in conducting archaeological work and research in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • The private consulting archaeologists in Newfoundland and Labrador work outside of government funded institutions and carry out the majority of the Historic Resources Impact Assessments in the province. They are professional archaeologists who work closely with the PAO and other government departments as well as with industry and Aboriginal groups to preserve the province's historic resources, especially where there is development of any sort, such as construction. They are at the front line in educating industry and other bodies that undertake development about the importance of preserving our cultural heritage.

^ Top of Page

6. Where can I find information on the prehistory or history of Newfoundland and Labrador?

Visit the Rooms . Attend its public archaeology lectures. You can also contact the Provincial Archaeology Office.

Check out these pages:

Look for these titles in your bookstore or library:

Marshall, Ingeborg
  • 2001- The Beothuk. Newfoundland Historical Society, St. John's.
  • 1996 - A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal.
  • 1989 - Reports and Letters by George Christopher Pulling Relating to the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland. Breakwater Books, St. John's.
  • 1989 - The Beothuk of Newfoundland: A Vanished People. Breakwater Books, St. John's.
  • 1977 - The Red Ochre People: How Newfoundland Beothuk Indians Lived. J.J. Douglas Ltd. and Douglas McIntyre, Vancouver.
Pastore, Ralph
  • 1992 - Shanawdithit's People: The Archaeology of the Beothuks. Atlantic Archaeology Limited, St. John's.
Pope, Peter E.
  • 1997 - The Many Landfalls of John Cabot. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
  • 2004 - Fish into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century. The University of North Carolina Press.
Renouf, M.A.P.
  • 1999 - Ancient Cultures, Bountiful Seas: The Story of Port au Choix. Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John's Newfoundland.
Tuck, James A.
  • 1976 - Ancient People of Port au Choix: The Excavation of an Archaic Indian Cemetery in Newfoundland. Institute of Social and Economic Research, St. John's.
  • 1976 - Newfoundland and Labrador Prehistory. National Museum of Man, Ottawa.
  • 1989 - Red Bay, Labrador: World Whaling Capital A.D. 1550-1600. Atlantic Archaeology Limited, St. John's.

Or visit one of the Provinces many local museums and historic sites.

^ Top of Page

7. What do I do if I think I need an archaeologist?

The Provincial Archaeology Office aids the Minister in protecting, preserving, developing, studying, interpreting and promoting the appreciation of the historic resources of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Historic resources can be the works of nature, or of humans, and are of interest within the broad field of science.

Since any proposed project involving land-use has the potential to impact upon historic resources, the PAO is responsible for a wide variety of activities, including the processing of land-use applications referred from various government agencies, and the private sector.

Any project you may be planning which requires ground disturbance that may impact historic resources should involve the Provincial Archaeology Office at the planning stage in order to ensure that mitigative measures to protect the resources are developed early.

The Provincial Archaeology Office welcomes any questions you may have. It is a resource agency for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation, as well as for the public and other government agencies.

^ Top of Page

8. What is an Historic Resources Impact Assessment?

An Historic Resources Impact Assessment (HRIA) is an evaluation of the effect of a proposed operation or activity on historic resources. HRIAs must be done prior to construction or excavation projects where there is the potential for damage to archaeological remains, above or below the ground. An HRIA is carried out by a professional archaeologist. For more information on HRIA, see the Historic Resources Assessment and Impact Management Summary webpages, and contact the PAO.

^ Top of Page

9. Why should I stop digging just because I have found some old rocks or bones?

The archaeological resources you come across could be very significant to your province, your community and you. The benefits of preserving an archaeological site will often far outweigh the inconveniences.

  • Archaeological resources could be scientifically significant: Archaeological resources may be scientifically significant in two respects:
    • A site may yield information which, if properly investigated, will substantially further our understanding of Newfoundland and Labrador heritage. It may help resolve current archaeological research gaps.
    • Archaeological resources also have the potential for making substantive contributions to other disciplines, or for providing information which may be used by industry for practical purposes. For example, archaeological investigations at sites like Ferryland opens new window, and Cupids opens new window can help track the development and growth of the Newfoundland Fishery, which can help inform fishery decisions today.
  • Archaeological resources may also be publicly significant: Sites can enhance the public's understanding and appreciation of the past. Sites can have interpretive, educational, and recreational potential. Consider how influential sites such as L'Anse aux Meadows opens new window or the Maritime Archaic cemetery at Port au Choix opens new window have been as educational and tourism destinations.
  • Archaeological resources may be culturally significant: Some sites have religious, mythological, social, or other special symbolic value to a culturally distinct community or group of people. Archaeological, historical, and architectural sites may have some degree of cultural significance to those groups who occupy or have occupied the site, the descendants of such groups, or people who presently own or live near the site.
  • Sites can be historically significant: Sites can be associated with individuals or events that made an important, lasting contribution to the historic development of a particular locality or larger area, such as John Guy'sopens new windowplantation at Cuper's Cove (Cupids) or Lord Baltimore'sopens new window Colony of Avalon (Ferryland). Historically important sites may also reflect or commemorate the historic socioeconomic character of an area, such as the Basque whaling station at Red Bay opens new window, Labrador. This type of significance applies to both architectural and historic sites, including those of an archaeological nature. Normally, these sites will also have high public significance.
  • Some sites may be economically significant: Archaeological sites can have potential as tourist attractions. Well preserved and interpreted sites can provide monetary benefits derived from public visitation. Examples of sites like these dot the province from Red Bay and L'Anse aux Meadows to Port au Choix and Ferryland. Many communities have discovered that protecting and interpreting archaeological sites within their borders can help draw tourists into their area.

^ Top of Page

10. What are my legal responsibilities if my work affects or damages an archaeological site?

Any projects you are planning which require ground disturbance should involve the Provincial Archaeology Office at the planning stage in order to ensure that mitigative measures to protect historic resources are developed early.

If you find any archaeological remains in the course of your work, such as stone, bone or iron tools, concentrations of bone, charcoal or burned fireplaces, house pits and/or foundations, activity in the area of the find should cease immediately. Contact the Provincial Archaeology Office as soon as possible.

Don't move or damage the remains. The Provincial Archaeology Office will advise you on what steps that will need to be taken before your activity resumes.

^ Top of Page

11. What if I do not stop?

Willfully damaging an archaeological resource is a serious offence, as is excavating archaeological remains without a permit, or selling artifacts.

Stop work orders may be issued by the Minister if ongoing work has the potential to damage historic resources. Penalties are outlined in the Historic Resources Act. Each day, or part of a day, that such activity contravenes the Historic Resources Act opens new window constitutes a separate offence. If convicted, you will owe a debt to the province in the amount spent on the restoration of the historic resource or historic site damaged.

Legal details may be found in the Historic Resources Act opens new window

^ Top of Page

12. These artifacts were found in my town, why doesn't the town own them?

All artifacts found in Newfoundland and Labrador are the property of the Province (see the Historic Resources Act opens new window).

The Rooms opens new window is the primary repository for all archaeological objects collected within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador opens new window.

The Museum has the staff and resources available for the long term curation of artifacts within the Province.

The Museum makes archaeological materials from all over the province available to researchers, students and the general public who wish to study them. The Museum also lends artifacts to communities which have local facilities that meet acceptable conservation and security standards.

^ Top of Page

13. How do we borrow artifacts to display in our community museum?

The Rooms Provincial Museum Division and Labrador will loan archaeology collections to local museums for their displays where possible.  

Before artifacts can be borrowed, a number of conservation and security standards must be met, in order to ensure that no damage will come to the artifacts on display. Contact The Rooms Provincial Museum Division with any questions you may have about borrowing artifacts.

^ Top of Page

Quick Links

 
Last Updated:
This page and all contents are copyright, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, all rights reserved.