an axe head, ceramic rim sherd, and projectile point in grass and dirt

Think You Found an Artifact?

How to identify and what to do if you find archaeological material

We do not encourage anyone to intentionally seek out archaeological material unless they are licenced by the Province of Ontario. If you think you may have found an object or site of archaeological interest, this guide is designed to help you identify and report finds.

If you think you’ve found an artifact or a potential archaeological site, we encourage you to leave it in its place. Removing an artifact from its context disrupts the process archaeologists take to analyze material remains. Instead, take a picture of where you found the artifact and keep note of its exact location on a map, by georeferencing the picture, or by recording the coordinates. Secondly, report the find to the proper authorities. This is something we will explain below.

If the artifact has already been removed from its context, don’t attempt to place it back. This may alter the context further. Similar to before, try to make note of where it was found, if this is known.

In both of these situations, it is important to identify whether or not what you found is actually archaeological material. Below are a series of guides for identifying objects of various materials and from various time periods using 3D models of artifacts from our collections. If you are having difficulty figuring out whether or not an object is an artifact, contact our Collections Manager.

Types of Artifacts:

Already know what you have?

Metal Artifacts

Common metal artifacts in Ontario are knives, axes, agricultural equipment, metal beads and ornaments, coins, and buttons.

Some objects that are often mistaken to be historic or prehistoric metal artifacts are modern metal debris or rocks with metallic appearances.

Here are some examples from our collection.

Iron axe head (AiHa-14 R-91)

Iron knife (AiHa-14 J-114)

Ceramic Artifacts

Ceramic artifacts are usually found in fragments, also known as sherds. They are identified most simply by four parts: rims, necks, walls, and bases. Some common ceramic artifacts are Indigenous ceramic sherds, Industrial-era ceramic, trade beads and ornaments.

Some objects that are often mistaken to be ceramic artifacts are modern ceramic debris like tile, some plastics, or natural unfired clay formations.

Here are some examples from our collection.

Large Rim and Neck Sherd

Brick Fragment

Animal Remains

Animal remains are commonly found throughout Ontario and are often misidentified as artifacts. These remains are only of archaeological interest if they have been modified by humans in the past or if they are found in an archaeological context.

Here are some examples from our collection that can help you to identify modified versus unmodified animal remains.

Modified Long Bone

Unmodified Long Bone

Stone Artifacts

Common stone artifacts in Ontario are projectile points, stone tools, and grinding stones.

Some objects that are often mistaken to be stone artifacts are naturally shaped stones, weathered/eroded stones, modern debris, and fossils.

Here are some examples from our collection.

Non-artifactual Stone

Hammerstone Anvil Stone J124

Think you have something else?

There are many different types of artifacts and it’s impossible for us to represent them all here. If nothing on this page seems to match what you found, check out our Sketchfab page to see more of our 3D models or our online artifact collection to compare against some other examples.


Reporting Archaeological Material in Ontario

Archaeology in Ontario is regulated by Part VI the Ontario Heritage Act. According to this law, only licensed archaeologists can knowingly disturb sites. This means no digging, and no removing any artifacts. This law also applies to underwater or submerged sites, so any diving activity that could disturb sites such as shipwrecks is also prohibited.

Archaeological sites are defined as “any property that contains an artifact or any other physical evidence of past human use or activity that is of cultural heritage value or interest.” (See Ontario Regulation 170/04).

This means that if you have found something and removed it without knowing what it was, you won’t get in trouble. However, if you go out looking to collect archaeological artifacts on purpose, you are breaking the law. There are also exceptions for materials found during routine agricultural work, or normal property maintenance.

If you have found an archaeological site or archaeological material, we encourage you to report it and to disturb the site as little as possible. You can send any information you have to archaeology@ontario.ca. Your report can be added to the provincial database that will help make sure that any future development take the site into consideration, and help protect it from looting.

If you accidentally find an artifact or site on federal property, such as a national park, the Parks Canada Agency requires you to report the site so it can protected.

If you accidentally find human remains in Ontario, do not touch them. Leave them in place and report them to the police immediately. If the police believe the remains to be of archaeological significance, they will cooperate with authorized anthropologists or archaeologists to protect the site.