What role does archaeology have in development in Nova Scotia?

By law, all archaeological sites in Nova Scotia belong to the Crown and to the people of Nova Scotia, whether it exists on private or on public land. This means that any disturbance to an archaeological site must be overseen by an archaeologist holding a valid archaeological permit, in order to ensure that this shared resource is properly cared for, recorded, and protected.


Archaeological assessment of development in Nova Scotia is governed by the Special Places Protection Act (R.S., c. 438, s. 1.). This act functions to protect archaeological sites within the province of Nova Scotia. Category A permits can be held by avocational archaeologists who are doing research and surface observation only. Category B permits are generally held by archaeologists with a specific research goal, rather than in relation to a development.


Under the Special Places Act, a Category C Heritage Research Permit is issued in advance of real or proposed development activity to ensure that significant archaeological resources are protected. Category C permits are the type generally taken out by DM&A archaeologists in order to assess a development project. This permit is used to conduct an archaeological resource impact assessment. 


What is the process for conducting an archaeological resource impact assessment?

Procedures & Methods:


Investigative Stage:


1. An archaeologist at Davis MacIntyre & Associates applies for a Category C permit. Processing for this permit generally requires 10 business days. During this time, work can begin on background research, which is done to identify known sites and areas of heightened archaeological potential and to develop a historical context for the area. This research includes consultation of archival and published materials, maps and aerial photographs, as well as predictive modelling, a request for information from a Mi'kmaw group if the discovery of First Nations archaeological material is a possibility, consultation with any other relevant individuals/organizations, and consultation of the Maritime Archaeological Resource Inventory (a database of known archaeological sites).


2. Field reconnaissance is conducted by qualified archaeologists to identify archaeological sites or areas of heightened archaeological potential within the study area and specifically within the impact zones. On small urban sites, this involves a brief site visit, while on larger study areas, this involves a reconnaissance of all areas to be impacted, assisted by hand-held GPS units


3. Archaeological testing may be conducted if the background research and field reconnaissance identify archaeological sites or areas of high/moderate potential. Shovel testing is used to gather presence/absence evidence as well as type, extent, tradition and period of the site.


Mitigation Stage:

Avoidance is the preferred method of mitigation. However, in some cases, archaeological sites cannot be avoided and other action may be taken.


1. Monitoring the ground disturbance activities of a development may be done in areas which could not be adequately tested (a heavily developed urban space for example). Monitoring may also be done in cases where ground disturbance is scheduled to occur in close proximity to a site.

2. Excavation, whether full or partial, is done when a significant site cannot be avoided by development and will be impacted. In this case, controlled excavation techniques are employed by qualified archaeologists to recover archaeological resources. Excavation also includes recording of the site, conservation of artifacts, analysis of data and interpretation of results.

When the work for a Category C permit has finished, an archaeological resource impact assessment report is compiled and submitted to the developer and to the Coordinator of Special Places.