Archaeology tells the story of people, their culture, traditions, ways of life and how they adapted over time.
The National Capital Region is located on Anishinabe Algonquin traditional territory. At the NCC, our role is to protect and manage archaeological resources on federal lands in the region. We carry out this role in partnership with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation.
Archaeological resources are non-renewable — protecting them is a collective responsibility. That’s why we take every opportunity to educate and engage the public in our work.
What are archaeological resources?
Archaeological resources are the physical traces of material culture left behind by people in the past. They include portable objects, or artifacts, and the remains of structures.
Pre-contact resources relate to the Indigenous occupation before the arrival of Europeans in the region. They date back at least 8,000 years. Examples include
- stone tools and clay pottery
- the remains of campsites, including hearths, storage pits and the traces of habitation structures
Historical resources relate to the use of the region by Europeans, colonial settlement and later development. They date from the 1600s to the mid-20th century. Examples include
- ceramic dishes used by settlers and the remains of pioneer homes
- iron relics and foundations of mills and factories established by local industries
Curious to learn more? Read our blog post on five artifacts that reveal a lot about the history of the region.
How to help us
If you find something on NCC-managed land that you think might be an artifact, please don’t take it home with you. Here’s what to do instead:
- Leave it in place
- Take a photo
- Send the photo and location to firstname.lastname@example.org
NCC's Archaeology Program
The work of our archaeology team is to find, recover, interpret and manage artifacts.
Our archaeologists have mapped the pre-contact archaeological potential on most of the federal lands in the region. As the organization with approval authority over projects on these lands, the NCC is in a unique position to protect archaeological resources.
Whenever we review a project proposal, we look at the following:
- the pre-contact and historical archaeological potential of the location
- the locations of previous archaeological work
- the locations of known archaeological sites
- historic mapping and other documentary sources
This helps us determine whether a project could impact archaeological resources.
We collect and record resources whenever a known or potential archaeological site on federal land in the region is at risk.
Threats arise from development projects, shoreline erosion, human leisure activities and more. Shoreline erosion, for example, is literally washing away archaeological resources at an alarming rate. As threats get more and more frequent and severe, our efforts aren’t enough to protect the archaeological legacy of the region completely.
Part of the solution is to teach the public about the importance of archaeological resources and to involve them in our research and rescue activities. To that end, we have been holding public archaeological digs since 2014 (with a break during COVID-19). Many of the pre-contact artifacts in our custody have been recovered thanks to these public digs.
Interpretation is the process of unlocking the stories behind the archaeological resources. Their location and the context in which we found them are key to piecing everything together.
When interpreting archaeological sites, we look at characteristics like these:
- raw materials, especially varieties of stone, used to make pre-contact tools
- types of artifacts found
- associations between artifacts
- similarities and differences between artifact collections from different sites
In the region, our interpretations of land use and occupation through time tend to focus on the influence of the waterways, in particular the Ottawa River.
Pre-contact resources tell us that the region was at the centre of a vast communications and trade network as early as 6,000 years ago. The confluence of three major river basins allowed raw materials, goods and ideas to flow into the region over long distances.
Historical resources tell us mainly about the 19th century logging, sawmills and other industries located on shorelines. This shows how important the rivers and water power were in the region’s development.
We clean, sort, catalogue and temporarily store recovered artifacts in our lab. Over the past years, we have processed approximately 80% of the roughly 300,000 pre-contact artifacts in our custody.
We currently don’t have the capacity or facilities for long-term storage of collections. For this reason, we are actively seeking partnerships for the curation and long-term maintenance of the artifact collections.
Partnering with Indigenous communities
The NCC is the temporary caretaker of the artifact collections on behalf of Anishinabe Algonquin communities. As the descendants of the people who made and used these artifacts, the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation have the final say on where the collections will eventually be housed.
In 2012, we entered into a partnership with these two communities for the co-management of archaeological resources. The partnership underlines their active and direct role in caring for their ancestral legacy. It is the only agreement of its kind between the federal government and Indigenous communities in Canada — and one we’re proud of!
We are also helping them build capacity in archaeology. In 2021, we partnered with the communities and Public Services and Procurement Canada to create the Anishinabe Odjibikan Archaeological Field School. In 2022, we supervised the field school training and integrated this group of 16 young Anishinabe Algonquins into our archaeological field and lab work.