BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

Archaeology and the Law

Grade 7


Archaeology and the Law

Big Idea

Religious and cultural practices that emerged during this period have endured and continue to influence people.

Essential Question

How should we resolve competing claims of ownership over artifacts and cultural sites?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • anthropological origins of humans

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Assess the significance of people, places, events, or developments at particular times and places

Core Competencies

I can describe the steps I would take if I discovered an artifact.

What factors would I consider when making a judgement about how archaeologists work with First Nations?

I can explain why it is important to protect archaeology sites and involve First Peoples in archaeological research.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge. Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.
  • Set up the following scenario: “Imagine you are on a hike and you find a flint arrowhead. What would you do? Keep it? Sell it on eBay? Turn it over to a local museum? Any other ideas?”
  • Use students’ responses to introduce the idea that archaeologists face particular ethical and legal issues because of their work related to ancient artifacts.
  • Point out that artifacts were once belongings—an artifact belonged to someone and may have great significance for their original owner’s descendants.
  • Journal: If you were an archeologist, how could you meet your desire to study artifacts to learn about the past, as well as your desire to be respectful of the interests of the original owner’s descendants?

Part 1: Why is it important to protect archaeological sites?

  • Explain that protecting archeological sites is not only the right thing to do; it’s the law. All archeological sites in B.C. are protected under the Heritage Conservation Act. Whether they are on public or private land and whether or not the landowner knows about them, they cannot be altered.
  • Archaeological investigations are frequently the subject of newspaper and magazine articles. Provide students with at least one current article about an archaeological investigation in British Columbia. For example: Kamloops homebuilder in legal battle after unearthing artifacts
  • Have students read an article about an archaeological investigation and work with a partner to complete the Article Summary Template.


Part 2: What should you do if you find an artifact?

  • Explain that every year in B.C. archaeological artifacts and sites are discovered by people out hiking, digging in their garden, doing home renovations, or developing property. If someone finds an artifact, they should:
    • Leave it in place
    • Take photos
    • Record the exact location (drop a pin on Google maps with your phone)
    • Call the C. Archaeology Branch, the local museum, and the local First Nation Should read BC Archaeology Branch
  • Have students work in small groups to create a brochure to show the steps to take if a person finds an artifact. Help students locate the contact information for their local museum and First Nation.


Part 3: What should you do if you find a mummy?

  • Use a Think-Pair-Share strategy to ask students to describe their cultural traditions when someone dies. Is there a burial or cremation? Is there a special place where the remains are laid to rest? Is there a ceremony? 
  • Set up a scenario: “Imagine you are an archeologist and you find a human mummy that is hundreds of years old. What would you do? Who would you contact about your find?”
  • Show the 3-minute CBC video clip Secrets From the Ice - Found Alone
  • Set up a Fishbowl Discussion. Ask: Should the human desire to honour the dead take precedence over the human desire to learn about the past? Why or why not? Should ancient human remains be treated as artifacts to be studied or as relatives to be honoured?
  • Students in the inner circle discuss while students in the outer circle observe and provide feedback. Questions for outer circle include:
    • What did you observe during the discussion?
    • What is one thing you heard that you agree with?
    • What is one thing you heard that you disagree with?


  • Provide students with the handout “The Story of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchį” and a copy of the Article Summary Template. Have them read the article and work together in pairs to complete the summary.
  • Using a Think-Pair-Share strategy ask: How did the discovery of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchį confirm the oral histories of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations regarding their traditional territories?

Part 4: How do archaeologists work with First Peoples?

  • Explain that indigenous communities have been researched by Western researchers extensively. Historically, such research has not benefitted the community itself. Instead, the research has been used for the benefit of the researchers and Western society as a whole. To ensure that research benefits the Indigenous communities, those communities have put in place protocols that must be addressed and followed by the research community.
  • Point out that the majority of archaeological sites in Canada involve the heritage of the First Nations and Inuit peoples. Therefore, the Canadian Archaeological Association has developed principles to guide their relationship with First Peoples. For example, archeologists should acknowledge the interest that First Peoples have in the preservation of artifacts and sites related to their ancestors. Archeologists also have an obligation to involve First Peoples in archeological research.
  • Have students divide a piece of paper into four sections and in each section draw a picture or symbol of one of the Canadian Archaeological Association’s principles for working with First Peoples. Then trade with a partner and label the principle for each image.
  • Provide students with the handout “Researching Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchį” and a copy of the Article Summary Template. Have them read the article and work together in pairs to complete the summary.
  • Using a Think-Pair-Share strategy ask: Why was it important for scientists to work with the First Nations to recover and study Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchį’s remains? (Encourage students to realize that these remains are not just a mummy or bones but the remains of an ancestor—a relative of people alive today.) What can we learn from how these archaeologists and First Nations worked together?
  • Exit Ticket:
    • Know--What did I learn about archaeology and the law?
    • Do--What should I do if I find an artifact?
    • Understand--Why is it important to protect archaeological sites and involve First Peoples in archaeological research?
  • Have students apply First Peoples perspectives and knowledge, other ways of knowing, and local knowledge as sources of information by providing students with a variety of articles such as the two below that show how archaeological evidence supports First Peoples oral histories:


Archeological findings confirm oral history of Lake Babine First Nation in northern B.C.


Lucky find gives archeologists glimpse into early hunting technology in Yukon



British Columbia. “Report Finding an Archaeological Artifact or Human Remains.” [n.d.].



CBC. 2019. “B.C. Strengthens Protections of Heritage, Archeological Sites with Updated Law.” 6 March.



CTV. 2017. “14,000-year-old Village Unearthed on B.C.Island by UVic Student.” 7 April.



Glavin, Terry. 2018. “What Makes the Ice Age Footprints Found in B.C. so Remarkable.”  Macleans. 4 April.



Hebda, Richard J., Grier, Shiela and Mackie, Alexander. 2011. “Teachings from Long Ago Person Found.”  Royal BC Museum.



Katz, Brigit. 2017. “Found: One of the Oldest North American Settlements.” Smithsonian Magazine. 5 April.


Library of Congress. 2020. “Protection of Indigenous Heritage: Canada.” 24 July.


Lorinic, John. 2018. “How Indigenous Communities are Denied their Archaeological Heritage.” The Walrus. 8 January.



Parks Canada. 2017. “Archeology and the Law.”  1 April.



Parks Canada. 2017. “What to do When Something is Discovered.”  3 March.


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Last Reviewed

February 01, 2023

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