Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through the investigation of archaeological sites. In Ontario, these sites can be:

  • Aboriginal hunting camps and villages
  • Battlefields
  • Pioneer homes
  • Burial grounds and cemeteries
  • Shipwrecks
  • Other evidence of past human activity.

The Ontario Heritage Act

This ministry enforces Part VI of the Ontario Heritage Act. This portion of the act determines priorities, policies and programs for the conservation of archaeological resources determined to have cultural heritage value.

Among other provisions, the act makes it illegal for anyone but a licensed archaeologist to knowingly disturb an archaeological site. This means that unless you are a licensed archaeologist, it is illegal for you to dig an archaeological site or dive on a shipwreck to record its condition or remove and keep artifacts.

To meet our responsibilities under the act:

We license archaeologists

All archaeologists who carry out fieldwork in Ontario must hold a licence issued by our minister. Their Archaeology Licence Cards include their name, licence number, type of licence and licence expiry date.

Learn more about archaeological licensing.

We maintain the Ontario Public Register of Archaeological Reports

Section 65.1 of the Ontario Heritage Act provides for a register of archaeological reports. The approximately 7,000 reports currently in the register were all filed with the ministry by licensed archaeologists after the 2005 amendments to the act and comply with ministry requirements.

Before reports are provided to the public, all personal information and the locations of archaeological sites are removed in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to protect personal privacy and sensitive archaeological sites.

We review archaeological reports

As a condition of their licence, archaeologists must document the results of the fieldwork they carry out in Ontario by filing archaeological reports with this ministry. On average, we receive approximately 3,000 archaeological reports a year from licensed archaeologists. We currently have over 22,000 reports on file.

Ministry staff review reports prepared by licensed archaeologists, including archaeological assessment reports, to ensure that the licensed archaeologist has met the terms and conditions of his or her licence (PDF), including our requirements for fieldwork and reporting. We then provide the consultant archaeologist with a letter.

  • If the report complies with ministry requirements, our letter confirms that we have entered it into the Ontario Public Register of Archaeology Reports. Approval authorities can use this letter to verify that a development proponent has addressed concerns for archaeological sites on the property that was assessed.
  • If the report does not comply with ministry requirements, our letter identifies concerns with the report and requests further archaeological fieldwork and/or revisions to address the concerns. Ministry staff will review and respond to additional reporting once submitted.

We maintain the Ontario Archaeological Sites Database

As a condition of their licence, licensed archaeologists must fill in and submit site forms to us. These forms provide data and information about the archaeological sites found during fieldwork. The data and information includes site location, type of site, history of research, cultural affinities, artifact collection location, research date, and other such information.

We enter this information into the Ontario Archaeological Sites Database. This database currently documents almost 30,000 sites in the province, and we add about 800 to 1,000 new sites each year as a result of archaeological investigations.

Licensed archaeologists can contact us when begining an archaeological assessment or a research project to get information from the database about archaeological sites near the property they will be investigating.

Municipalities and First Nations regularly contact us for sites database information within their communities for land-use planning purposes. Researchers, engineers and lawyers acting on behalf of property owners also obtain this information to ensure sites are conserved.

We advise and support licensed archaeologists, municipalities and approval authorities

Our Archaeology Review Officers support licensed archaeologists by:

  • Advising them on technical issues related to archaeological fieldwork
  • Providing guidance on how to comply with the terms and conditions of their licences and meet other ministry requirements for fieldwork and reporting.
  • Reviewing archaeological reports to make sure they comply with the Ontario Heritage Act, the terms and conditions of licence and other ministry requirements, such as the Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists.

Our Heritage Planners support municipalities and approval authorities by providing recommendations on how to best conserve archaeological resources within their communities. They help development proponents and approval authorities to determine whether archaeological sites are likely to be on a particular property.


For more information contact:

Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Archaeology Programs Unit