Archaeology in BC

“Archaeology is the study of past human behaviour based on material culture (the things people leave behind)”

In British Columbia certain types of archaeological sites are protected by provincial legislation. These sites are protected whether they occur on public or private land. Protected sites include graves, ship wrecks, plane wrecks, First Nation Rock Art, sites which have been designated protected by the provincial government, and sites which predate 1846. The majority of the province has not been surveyed for archaeological sites and thus most archaeological sites have not been recorded. The Heritage Conservation Act (HCA) provides substantial penalties for destruction or unauthorized disturbance of archaeological sites including imprisonment for up to two years and fines of up to $1,000,000. The Archaeology Branch (Ministry of Forests) is responsible for issuing permits to conduct archaeological studies.

The BC Association of Professional Archaeologists represents most professional consulting archaeologists in British Columbia. If you need to hire an archaeologist, the BCAPA provides a list of consulting firms operated by members. The BCAPA can also provide information on archaeology and archaeological consulting in British Columbia.

If you are interested in BC Archaeology, and want more information on how to become involved in the discipline as a lay person, please contact the Archaeological Society of British Columbia.

If you would like more information on archaeological resource management and legislation in British Columbia, please visit the Archaeology Branch.

The British Columbia Energy Regulator is responsible for work on non-National Energy Board oil and gas developments.

An outline of the general approach to archaeology in B.C. is presented below. For a more comprehensive discussion please refer to the Archaeological Resource Management Handbook.

Overview studies determine the need for and scope of archaeological work required

Projects which have the potential to disturb archaeological sites, such as harvesting of trees, development of oil and gas leases, road construction, and subdivisions, generally require an archaeological assessment prior to the project being conducted. The initial studies involve a review of known information regarding the project area to determine if previously recorded archaeological sites are present and if unrecorded sites are likely to be present. These studies are usually referred to as Archaeological Overview Assessments (AOAs). An AOA is usually completed by a qualified archaeologist or by the Provincial Government. The study may involve a field visit to determine the potential for archaeological sites. These field visits are part of the AOA process and are commonly referred to as Preliminary Field Reconnaissance (PFR). Permits are not required for this type of study.

A heritage inspection (field study) is conducted under a Section 12 permit

If the AOA study shows that sites may be present, a field study is required. These field studies are referred to as AIAs or Archaeological Impact Assessments. AIAs require a permit issued by the Archaeology Branch to the archaeologist under Section 12 of the Heritage Conservation Act. These studies involve a visual inspection of the property by a qualified professional archaeologist and may require subsurface testing to determine if buried materials are present. The Archaeology Branch sets standards for testing and reporting for AIA studies. Once a study is complete, a report must be prepared and submitted to the Archaeology Branch, which is then responsible for determining if the report is adequate and if additional work is required. In some cases (particularly for forestry and oil and gas developments) interim reports may be prepared and reviewed by the Archaeology Branch or other agencies. If archaeological sites are found they must be recorded according to Archaeological Branch standards and any artifacts collected must be turned over to the museum specified by the Archaeology Branch.

A heritage investigation (excavation) requires a Section 12 permit

If a project will cause significant damage to an important archaeological site additional archaeological work may be required by the Archaeology Branch to mitigate the impacts. A detailed study of a site usually involves systematic data recovery and is conducted under a permit issued under Section 12 of the Heritage Conservation Act. These studies are referred to as Heritage Investigations, and are what most people think of as an archaeological excavation. Excavation permits are issued by the Archaeology Branch to qualified archaeologists. Because the work is more complex, the standards for conducting and reporting excavations are more rigorous. Excavation reports are reviewed by the Archaeology Branch, which makes a decision if the report is adequate and if additional work is required. All of the studies described (i.e., AOA, AIA, Heritage Investigation) are paid for by the project proponent.

Site alteration (development) must be conducted under a Section 12 permit

If ground disturbing activities (such as harvesting of trees) need to be conducted within the boundaries of a recorded archaeological site, a permit issued under Section 12 of the Heritage Conservation Act is required. These permits are issued by the Archaeology Branch except in cases of some oil and gas projects, which are issued by the British Columbia Energy Regulator. Section 12 applications may be prepared by a qualified professional archaeologist and contain measures to minimize and mitigate impacts to archaeological resources. However, the proponent is responsible for obtaining the Section 12 permit including seeing that the work is conducted according to the permit and that the necessary reports are filed.

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