ARA is Ontario’s oldest archaeological and heritage consulting firm, uncovering Ontario's history since 1972. Day of Archaeology posts are written by members of ARA's Archaeology, Heritage, and Conservation Teams. Our 2016 post was written by Field Director/Lab Technician Meaghan. Our 2015 post was written by Cartographer Katie, Lab Manager Andrea and Heritage Manager Kayla.

This is not your Indiana’s Archaeology

Here we are, or some of us at least, finishing up our winter season. Yes, we know the photo is blurry. That’s typical, finally get the group together and the shot’s no good. This year ARA’s Day of Archaeology post is dedicated to those unexpected, unusual and unheard of moments in a field archaeologist’s day.

Let’s start with winter archaeology in Canada. You might think that’s impossible. Well, it’s tough, requires long hours of planning and ice cleats (but we did it!). The group photo shows the crew on the final day of excavation. You can’t tell exactly but there were many happy faces. Take a look at some of the photos below of the crew at work and rest during our winter season.

Archaeologists are experts at getting comfy in odd and dirt filled places.

Alanna shows us that sometimes getting that corner out takes a little flexibility.

Below, Steve is rocking some sweet twist tie fashion and using a rare sunny day to help screen for artifacts. Believe it or not, it was fairly warm in the tent at times.


When you move a lot of dirt it tends to accumulate in large piles and that makes screening a bit tricky but Marissa and Colleen have found a way to make it work.


Archaeologists will eat lunch anywhere, especially a free pizza lunch!

The next photos document our days long toil getting our site backfilled. When you screen for artifacts on blue tarps and then have to remove the dirt from them at the end everyone goes a little crazy.


At the end of all that you might need a friend to get you home after a long back breaking day, or at least Eric did.

When Spring finally arrived we found ourselves back in our normal outdoor setting. And of course working through a new set of challenges.  Jordan seems to be handling his rock filled unit with aplomb.

Dean on the other hand looks a little frazzled…












Meanwhile Andrew and company are having a tough time getting the grid established in the woods, but I’m sure they enjoy the challenge.

Finally, here’s another shot of Andrew’s crew. What happens when fog rolls in during a Pedestrian Survey? You take an awesome picture of the spooky setting, of course.

That’s it for our Day of Archaeology post!

Check us out at:, and of course @ArchResearch on Twitter.


Where Do Artifacts Go After Excavation?

The Summer and Fall of 2015 was busy a field season for everyone at ARA, we were very lucky to participate in some large and detailed excavations in Southern Ontario.  But what happens next? Once the artifacts are out of the ground they are transported to our lab and our dedicated Laboratory Technicians get busy.

The Winter 2016 lab season was a big adventure for everyone involved and it won’t soon be forgotten!

In this photo, Alyssa and Alanna are washing artifacts.  This is the first stage in artifact processing. By scrubbing away the dirt and debris we can make important details become clear, such as the pattern on a piece of ceramic or a maker’s mark.

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Below, Alyssa is using a dry brush to remove dirt from a piece of Native pottery. This is another method used to clean artifacts; it ensures that a delicate piece of pottery is kept intact.

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The lab crew was lucky enough to come across pieces of pottery that could be used for carbon dating.  Alyssa is placing her sample on a scale in order to get an accurate measurement for processing.

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After we thoroughly wash the artifacts, everything is neatly arranged on screens and placed in drying racks.  Artifacts are kept on the racks until they are completely dry, usually for 48 hours.

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Once the artifacts are dry the lab crew puts them in clear plastic bags. In this photo Alyssa has finished sorting each artifact by type and placed them in the bag.

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After all the artifacts are bagged they are brought to another lab technician who adds them to the catalogue.  Our catalogue is a detailed record of all the artifacts found during excavation, this is important for so many reasons. Many questions we have about our sites can be answered with the trends discovered from this document. Many decisions about the date and use of the site can be made once the artifact information is explored in the catalogue.

Essentially our job is to: organize, clean, catalogue, study and store all of the artifacts found during excavation. We’ve done our job right if in fifty years (or more) someone comes across one of our boxes of artifacts and opens it up discovering that all the artifacts are intact and the provenience has been maintained.  It requires patience, diligence and a fair amount of team work to get through a day in the lab and we love it.

Thanks for checking out our post for Day of Archaeology!  For more information and cool photos check out Archaeological Research Associates on Facebook and Twitter!


Uncovering Ontario’s History since 1972

Archaeological Research Associates Ltd. (ARA) is Ontario’s oldest archaeological and heritage consulting firm, uncovering Ontario’s history since 1972.

Over the past 43 years, ARA has completed hundreds of contracts for clients in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors across Ontario. With strong ties to Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario, ARA has consistently been staffed with the best and brightest archaeologists and heritage specialists in Ontario.

Stage 4

At ARA, we approach the landscape in a holistic way, offering services in both Archaeology and  Heritage. We have a strong commitment and Education and Outreach, sharing our knowledge with the public and engaging them in learning about their local and greater community.


ARA’s Archaeology Department is responsible for conducting all 4 Stages of archaeological assessments as regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS).

Stage 1 investigations consist of an archival search of any known historical, environmental and archaeological data for the study area. The information obtained in this search may be used to determine the archaeological potential of the study area. Sources in Stage 1 investigations may include, but are not limited to, historical maps and archives, oral histories, geophysical mapping, and Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport site records.


During Stage 2 assessments, field crews are dispatched to the study area to examine it directly for the presence of archaeological and heritage resources. Visual inspection or subsurface-testing techniques are employed depending on field conditions. Significant archaeological finds are noted on large-scale field maps, and diagnostic artifacts (i.e. buttons, coins, pottery, bone, stone tools) are retained for analysis. At this point, MTCS guidelines are employed to determine whether or not a site requires further investigation.

In this photo our Field Technicians are completing a Test Pit survey to identify any new archaeological resources in the study area. This particular survey required some creative transportation in the middle of the assessment!


Peter and Crew 2

We always gain permission to enter the property where we are working, here Field Director Sarah has made a new friend in this pygmy goat while checking in with some property owners before beginning their assessment.

Sarah and Goat

After Stage 2, our crews may continue to excavate an archaeological site at the Stage 3 level. A Stage 3 assessment is conducted if a potentially culturally-significant deposit is encountered during Stage 2 investigation. The site is subject to a controlled surface pickup (CSP) in which all artifacts visible on the surface are individually plotted using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. All of our surface artifacts here are marked by red and white straws.

Rock GPS

In Stage 3, a series of 1×1 m test excavation units are placed in a grid formation, and the resulting artifacts and soil features are used to determine age, cultural affiliation, density, and extent. A determination is made, in consultation with the MTCS, regarding the need for further investigation in the form of full (Stage 4) excavation.


Filling a Unit

Being responsible archaeologists means back-filling all of the units that we excavate…but sometimes the soil just doesn’t want to fit back in the same space! Here we see crew member Owen doing his best high-jumps to pack the soil back in!

In the below photo we are excavating a Euro-Canadian site at the Stage 4 level. In this final phase of the process, a site which is endangered and cannot be preserved is subjected to excavation. Stage 4 excavations are carried out according to MTCS guidelines and industry-accepted standards and practices. At ARA, we endeavour to collect research-grade data. Our collections are effectively curated and are made available to qualified scholars and researchers.


Pam HiVis

Field work can be dirty but we do have fun! We rock the most enviable styles… #fashion

Mikes Goodbye

And sometimes you just want to rule from a throne of dirt! Did we mention our Game of Thrones obsession might have run a little wild? #MustLoveDirt

Unlike archaeology in the movies, the work is seldom glamorous. Archaeological work is physically demanding. Working out-of-doors means exposure to the elements and biting insects; frequently in isolated and sometimes challenging conditions.

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At the same time the archaeologist occasionally has an opportunity unavailable to others – to be the first to discover and retrieve artifacts last used by people that came before us hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. It is through these artifacts and other evidence preserved in the record of the past, that their experiences come to life once again.



In addition to looking at cultural heritage resources below the ground in the archaeology department, ARA’s Heritage Department also looks at built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes. Our job is to help piece together the history of individual properties and landscapes.

Most of our jobs start in the field doing site visits (rain, shine, sleet or snow!). We get to get up close and personal with lots of different types of buildings and structures. We document their layout, location and condition through floor plans, photographs and even measured drawings.

Kayla and Sarah - Tower in Kingston

These investigations can take you to some very interesting places, like this former military tower!


Here we are taking a close look at some wood flooring to determine if it is original to the structure


We’re testing the pH level of a gravestone to assist with a condition assessment.

Research at local archives is like a treasure hunt. One newspaper clipping may make the whole history of a building fall into place. We find all kinds of interesting articles, from an ad in a 1820s newspaper for a circus held behind a subject building advertising “Grand Entrée by six horses which will go through many pleasing maneuvers” or a fur company catalogue showing stylish men and women. By reading through a record of land transactions we can determine who owned the land and how long they lived there. By examining historic photos or maps we can see the progression of a building over time.

Map 15 Building Footprints

Our work helps to tell the stories of the buildings that were witness to incredible moments in history, ordinary lives lived, and the growth of our cities and towns. We dig deep to describe the people who once lived, worked and played in these buildings, and their importance to the community both past and present.

Outreach and Education

ARA is also very involved in numerous Outreach and Education initiatives. Our Heritage Department recently worked with the City of Burlington and Heritage Burlington to draft stories for 30 themes and 30 properties in the City for their new website ( The research for this involved detailed investigations of many interesting local legends. This website’s goal is to engage the community in learning about their history, and sharing their own stories.

Heritage Burlington WebsiteIn honour of Aboriginal Month (June) in Canada, our Heritage Cartographer worked on a joint project with the Kitchener Public Library to produce the “Local Aboriginal History and Culture Bike Tour”. The Library made this guide available online and in it’s main branch, and held guided tours through out the month.

Large Map Design May 26 2015 v2To view and print the brochure:

We also speak and lecture at various venues. From opening the Mississauga’s of the New Credit First Nation Annual Gathering, to jetting off to Alberta to talk about social media, we are always excited to talk about our passions!


Our Heritage Manager talking about “Heritage is #trending” at the Municipal Heritage Forum in Alberta, Canada.

Speaking of social media, for more behind-the-scenes photos, interesting cultural heritage news, and all things ARA please check out our Facebook Page (ArchaeologicalResearchAssociates); Twitter profiles @ArchResearch and @ARAHeritage and to further fuel your Pinterest obsession you can find us at and