What is an archaeological site?
An archaeological site, or resource, is defined as “a work of humans that is of value for its prehistoric, historic, cultural or scientific significance.” These sites are protected under the Historical Resources Act.
Archaeologists working in the province discover or revisit sites through research studies or during the course of Historic Resource Impact Assessment.
Each year, hundreds of new sites and thousands of artifacts are found by professional archaeologists, and sometimes even by members of the public.
Prehistoric archaeological sites
Over 80% of sites in Alberta are pre-contact, which means they predate the arrival of Europeans. Some sites are more than 13,000 years old, but they can also be as young as a few hundred years. Some of the most common types of prehistoric sites are:
- stone features, such as stone circles
- animal kill sites, such as bison jumps or pounds
- butchering sites
- rock art sites
- ceremonial sites, such as medicine wheels
Some well-known prehistoric archaeological sites in Alberta include Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the rock art sites in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.
Historic archaeological sites
Historic sites postdate European arrival and include:
- trading posts
- police posts
- early settlements
- industrial sites
For a historic site to be considered to be archaeological, it must have a below-ground component. It may or may not include buildings or building remains. Some well-known historic archaeological sites in Alberta include Fort Dunvegan and the Medalta Potteries Plant.
Archaeological artifacts and features
Common types of artifacts found in Alberta include:
- projectile points or other stone tools
- refuse from the production of stone tools (lithic debitage or flakes)
- fire-cracked rock
- historic material, such as metal, wood, glass, beads and ceramics
Common archaeological features found on Alberta’s landscape include:
- stone circles
- medicine wheels
- pictographs or petroglyphs
- refuse dumps
Archaeological resources are the property of the people of Alberta, vested in the Crown in right of Alberta, and are stored and displayed at the Royal Alberta Museum.
Why is archaeology important?
Alberta has over 13,000 years of history and for most of that time written records were not made. Archaeology allows us to reconstruct the past through the study of material remains and to recover a rich history that might otherwise be lost. Our archaeological resources are valuable and need to be protected and conserved. Knowing our past can inform our future.
Archaeological sites inventory
The Alberta Archaeological Sites Inventory contains the records of over 40,000 sites, with approximately 500 new records added each year. New site records can result from investigations conducted in areas proposed for development, as required through the Historic Resources Impact Assessment process, or from academic research projects. The site records contain information such as location, site type, description and age.
Because most archaeological sites are fragile and irreplaceable, access to detailed site records is usually limited to approved researchers.
Archaeological investigations, surveys or excavations in Alberta must be carried out by a professional archaeologist under a valid permit that has been approved by the Director of the Archaeological Survey. Professionals working in the province have specific qualifications and experience that make them eligible to hold a permit. For more information, see the archaeological permits page.
Report an archaeological find
If you think you have found an archaeological site or an artifact please report your find.
To contact the Archaeological Survey:
8820 112 Street NW
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2P8
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