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Protecting the Past

By: Marissa Buckland

When people think of archaeology, they often think of box office hits like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. These movies suggest that archaeological “treasures” can only be discovered in faraway lands such as the pyramids of Peru or the tombs of Cambodia, when in fact archaeological artifacts can be found right outside your back door here in Ontario!

About an hour north of Toronto are a series of archaeological sites near Wilcox Lake, on the Oak Ridges Moraine, located in Richmond Hill, that span most of the human history of Ontario. The TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) began initial excavation of the Lost Brant site in 1992 and intensive excavations took place from 1999 – 2002, uncovering almost 10, 000 artifacts, including chert points and pieces of ceramic vessels[1].

The finds lead archaeologists to believe that the site was inhabited as early as 10, 000 years ago, during the Paleo-Indian period. For example, spurred scrapers (pictured to the right[2]) characteristic of Paleo-Indian occupations, have been found at the site. Other evidence from the site indicates occupation in the Archaic and Woodland periods, and neighbouring sites were used by Iroquoian peoples. These sites contain important information about how people’s way of life changed in the region over time; however, current land development is negatively impacting the local environment and archaeological sites. The risk of losing this important archaeological information makes it vital to formulate conservation plans for this area and others that house archaeological sites.

Organizations such as EcoSpark [3], which works with community groups and schools to promote environmental stewardship, have been created to protect and conserve the land surrounding Richmond Hill and other densely settled areas in Ontario. The Ontario Provincial Government also passed the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act in 2002, which protects the natural resources of the area and regulates land use. The STORM coalition (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine)[4] sets out to prevent “irreversible damage” and monitors land use planning. Although it is crucial EcoSpark and STORM are doing their part to preserve the area from construction, they do not actively protect the heritage sites of the region. That is why groups such as UNSECO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)[5] are essential in bringing together heritage and ecology groups to ensure both the land and fragments of the past are preserved.

Though heritage is not their explicit focus, both EcoSpark and STORM, in protecting the region’s environment, are also helping protect the historical value of the Oak Ridges Moraine. If you would like more information on previous archaeological research in the region or would like to get involved in EcoSpark, STORM, or TRCA please visit the links below. Remember, it’s up to us to preserve our backyard archaeological “treasures”!

Thank you to Dr. Lisa Hodgett’s Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology class, Western University

[1] The TRCA:

[2] “The Wilcox Lake Site (AIGu-17): Middle Iroquoian Exploitation of the Oak Ridges Moraine”:

[3] EcoSpark:

[4] STORM:


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