Serendipity – have you ever experienced it? It happens when someone makes a fortunate discovery by accident. Certain things that we take for granted today – like cellophane and post-its – were discovered accidentally by scientists working on quite different projects. Archaeology is no exception to this phenomenon.
Sometimes a chance discovery provides extraordinarily valuable information that contributes to the understanding of our heritage. That is why it is important that any accidental discovery be made known to competence authorities. In fact, Québec’s Cultural Heritage Act obliges anyone who discovers archaeological property or remains to notify the Minister of Culture without delay. A form for this is available on the website of the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec. (https://www.mcc.gouv.qc.ca/index.php?id=5295) The Cultural Heritage Act defines an archaeological property or site as: “as any property or site indicating prehistoric or historic human occupation.”
Informing authorities of an archaeological find is very important. Québec covers an immense territory and it is impractical to envisage systematic archaeological excavations in every corner. Much still lies hidden. When you come across something a bit odd it might appear of little interest, but it could be a clue to a mystery that has been puzzling archaeologists for years.
Above all, don’t pretend to be an archaeologist yourself! Precious archaeological information can be invisible to the naked eye, and even with the best intentions, amateurs can unknowingly destroy this information forever. Furthermore, in Québec it is illegal to undertake archaeological excavations without an archaeological research permit.
If you make a chance discovery, note the place you found it. Look around for landmarks that will make it possible to pinpoint the location, take a photograph or use a GSP to record the longitude and latitude of the find. If an artifact is removed from its original archaeological context, much of its essential scientific value will be lost.
And its scientific value is what counts! In fact, an archaeological find has no market value, since selling and buying artifacts is prohibited by law in Canada and Québec. It should also be remembered that, from a legal standpoint, archaeological property and sites belong to the owner of the land on which they were discovered.
Chance discoveries – exceptional contributions to science!
While hiking in the Parc national de la Yamaska in the summer of 2011, a visitor noticed a little stone that looked different than the others. It turned out to be a projectile point dating back more than 5 000 years! This chance discovery provided the first tangible proof of a human presence at such an early date on the banks of the Yamaska River.