Dig It: What archaeologists do and don’t do

For example, an archaeologist does not tell a developer they cannot proceed with a project. An archaeologist will provide input to the client on the regulatory requirements, work scope, general schedule and cost implications associated with the options.

I was having a conversation with a co-worker about comments and questions we receive from the public when they find out we are archaeologists.

We always try to provide clarification, generate interest in archaeology and educate people about the aims of cultural resource management.

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However, one comment that is often difficult to address is “The archaeologist shut down my project.” I’ve heard this statement a number of times and thought it might be a useful exercise to walk through the assessment and decision-making process to create awareness of what archaeologists do and what they don’t do when it comes to a developer completing a project.

A local or provincial government agency review of a developer’s proposed project may trigger the need to undertake an archaeological assessment. The archaeologist conducts an assessment to determine if documented or yet-to-be identified archaeological sites may be altered by the proposed project and provide guidance to the developer, per guidelines associated with the Heritage Conservation Act.

When archaeologists are engaged to conduct an assessment, we provide the client with an initial, well-scoped work plan and budget based on a number of variables. We make efforts to discuss these variables with the client because no two projects are the same. We need to know the type and dimensions of the proposed impacts, which can vary greatly (e.g., residential construction versus pipeline construction).

Understanding the project location allows us to determine the logistics required for the assessment and which First Nations will be involved as part of the crew or in permitting. It also allows us to research the setting and generate expectations of the archaeological site types we may encounter.

Now, it is important to remember that much of what archaeologists look for is not immediately visible. While some sites have a surface expression, such as pit house depressions, many of the sites are buried and we need to conduct subsurface testing to find them. That means we may not know if sites are present or how big they are when we provide the initial work plan to the client.

We make this clear and indicate that, if fieldwork results exceed the expectations in the initial work plan, we must generate a revised work plan/budget that has to be approved by the client before proceeding further. Just like when a mechanic finds something unexpected on your vehicle when you take it in for a brake job and must get your approval to repair it, the scope and cost of archaeological assessments are subject to modification based on what we encounter during fieldwork.

Further, the archaeologist works with the client to develop strategies to address the presence of archaeological sites in the proposed project area once the assessment is complete. This includes looking for options to avoid or reduce impacts to sites through design modifications. If the client does not wish to modify the design, then a determination is made of how much of the site will be impacted and the amount of archaeological work that would be necessary to address it.

The archaeologists will provide input to the client on the regulatory requirements, work scope, general schedule and cost implications associated with the options. Ultimately, it is the client who decides if the options presented are viable based on their schedule or budget, public and stakeholder concerns and/or other regulatory requirements.

Throughout this process, the archaeologist does not tell a developer they cannot proceed with a project. However, a developer may decide their project is not viable to pursue based on those various constraints.

Todd Paquin is a Kamloops-area archeologist. Interested in more? Go online to republicofarchaeology.ca. Dig It is KTW’s regularly published column on the history beneath our feet in the Kamloops region. A group of archeologists working in the area contribute columns to KTW’s print edition and online at kamloopsthisweek.com.


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