Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Ferris, Neal

2nd Supervisor

Timmins, Peter



This study will explore the logics of a particular practice in the commercial archaeology industry in Ontario. This practice is embodied within the standards and guidelines the provincial governing body released in 2011 for commercial archaeology in Ontario. One specific standard directs excavation methodologies for larger cellar features found on nineteenth century domestic sites. This standard stipulates that consultant archaeologists are only required to excavate a minimum of two opposing quadrants of the feature, or 50 percent of the contents. A best practice guideline, alternatively, gives the consultant the option to excavate the feature wholly. As a document governing cultural resource management across Ontario, the Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists (2011) effectively codifies excavating 50 percent of a cellar feature as sufficient for analysis and retention for future research. This study examined a sample of consultant reports detailing the full excavation of cellar features to counterfactually test the assumptions behind the notion that 50 percent recovery is sufficient for conservation and future research purposes. The findings of this study demonstrated that the excavation of opposing quadrants does not accurately sample cellar contents or depositional history. Instead, this standard reflects stereotypes about cellar feature uniformity, assumptions about commercial expediencies realized when only recovering half of such features, and the legacy of a lesser value held for this part of the record in Ontario archaeology.

Summary for Lay Audience

This study explores how and why commercial archaeologists in Ontario excavate the specific type of cultural feature on nineteenth century archaeological sites known as a cellar feature. Ontario archaeologists are required to follow a set of rules released by the province back in 2011, called Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists. These rules describe how to excavate larger cellar features found on nineteenth century sites and determine that archaeologists are required to divide the cellar into four quadrants, excavating a minimum of 50 percent of the contents through opposing quadrants (i.e., Northwest and Southeast quadrants). Archaeologists are allowed to excavate the whole cellar, but this is optional. Since Standards and Guidelines determines that excavating half of a cellar is enough, this study explores whether this 50 percent minimum excavation strategy is adequate to satisfy both the present and future purposes of research. This study explores a sample of five reports provided by commercial archaeology companies that have examples of fully excavated cellar features to test whether 50 percent represents sufficient data for conservation and future research. By comparing the different ways 50 percent of the cellar can be excavated, this study found that excavating only half of a cellar feature presents neither an accurate sample of the contents nor of the history that can be learned from the different layers within. Instead, the requirements for excavating cellars in Standards and Guidelines was found to reflect incorrect assumptions about cellar characteristics and contents, and arguably furthers the legacy that considers archaeological data from this period in Ontario’s historical record at a lesser value than other periods.