The first step of a historic resources impact assessment (HRIA) happens in the office. Once we have the plan for a development, we need to assess whether the footprint will impact any recorded sites or if it has the potential to impact any unrecorded sites. We use our experience and knowledge of archaeology, GIS data, and databases of recorded sites in order to identify high potential areas that might have any archaeological and historic resources (Figure 1). Although this stage of archaeology does not capture the imagination of the public and isn’t very exciting or glamorous, it is the most important part and the foundation of our work.
High potential areas vary by region, depending on the geography and the history of the area. Generally areas that people would camp or travel through are considered high potential; these include well-defined landforms and areas near water. We also take into account the environment of the past. For example, shorelines fluctuate, and rivers and streams may change course or dry up. Areas near water generally have higher potential because they were used as a method of transport, offered fishing opportunities, and, of course, they were also a source of fresh water (Figure 2).
Sometimes a development plan will conflict with a previously recorded site. In this case, we can recommend either that the development plan be changed to avoid the site, or that impacts to the site be mitigated by excavation. If there are no recorded sites in the footprint, but there are areas that we think are likely to have sites, we recommend field survey. Using GIS data and the research that we have complied concerning the area around the developmental footprint, we create targets of high potential areas to survey in the field. The next step takes us out of the office and into the field.
Cultural Resource Management (CRM) is undertaken in many different countries all over the world and it can go by just as many names, Contract Archaeology, Consulting Archaeology, Compliance Archaeology, and Heritage Resource Management (HRM) to name a few. Whatever CRM is called, the underlying purpose is always the same. These archaeologists engage in the protection, preservation, and professional management of archaeological and historic sites. In Canada, this means that we help minimize any impacts planned developments might have on a province’s archaeological and historic resources. These resources include archaeological sites containing artifacts such as stone tools and animal bones (Figure 1), and historic sites consisting of structures like cabins or artifacts like metal tools (Figure 2).
Using our experience in archaeology and research, along with computer programs like GIS, we review development plans and identify recorded sites and areas that have high potential to have archaeological and historical resources (Figure 3). This most commonly results in an archaeological survey of the high potential areas. Another option is to move a development or minimize the potential impacts by changing the way the development will be done.
Next, we go into the field to survey the high potential areas (Figure 4). In forested parts of Alberta we do this by shovel testing. If we identify a site, we dig more evaluative tests to determine the nature and extent of it. This allows us to contribute information for the government and other researchers concerning the size and type of sites in the area. In addition, it allows us to more precisely buffer the site for our clients so development can occur close to the site without impacting it. It also makes it possible for us to better evaluate the significance of the site and to render cost estimates for any mitigation work much more accurately.
Once we complete the field survey, we return to the office. This is where we catalogue the artifacts and compile a report for our clients and the government.
The Borden System is used to provide each archaeological site in Canada with a unique identifier, called a Borden Number. These identifiers consist of two parts – four letters (formatted AaBb) and a number separated by a dash. The letters represent the Borden block which is the geographical location of the site and the number indicates the sequence when it was identified.
The Borden System was invented by Charles E. Borden with the help of Wilson Duff in 1952 at the University of British Columbia. Charles E. Borden is sometimes referred to as the “grandfather of British Columbia archaeology” despite not having a background in archaeology. He was born in New York City in 1905 and then moved to Germany as an infant where he lived until at 22 he discovered that he was an American citizen. He returned to the United States and went to university in California to study German literature. Continue reading “What is a Borden Number?”
Archaeology provides us with the opportunity to learn about past cultures through the study of artifacts, animal bones and sometimes human bones. Studying these artifacts helps to provide us with some insight about what life was like for people who left behind no written record. In the case of historical archaeology the artifacts can help us to recognize that historic documents often don’t speak for all the people and can provide us with a picture of what life was like for people who are seldom responsible for the written record such as illiterate peasants in medieval Europe and pre-civil war era slave populations in the southern States of the USA.
In Canada and around the world archaeology has been used as evidence in court in the cases of Aboriginal land title claims to corroborate oral histories and to document land and resource use over time. Archaeology can be used to learn about the successes and failures of past cultures and societies. Knowing what has been tried in the past can help us to make better decisions about the future. Learning about archaeology and past lifeways can help to give us perspective about how life was compared to how it is today; this helps us to remember the hardships of people of the past and to recognize and respect that the technologies we take for granted today have been hard won by our ancestors.