Planning and building

Guidance for archaeological work

Archaeological watching brief

An archaeologist must observe groundworks across the site as specified by the City Archaeologist in order to determine the date and character of any archaeological deposits disturbed by the development.

The watching brief must be carried out by the archaeologist in a manner that allows the contractor to proceed with their construction programme without unreasonable interference or delay. The contractor must allow the archaeologist reasonable access and resources to implement this archaeological scheme of investigation.

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During the watching brief

If it becomes clear during the watching brief that there is no likelihood of archaeological deposits surviving on the site the watching brief may be curtailed with the agreement with us.

If it becomes clear that the extent of surviving archaeology is greater than thought the client should consult with the City Archaeologist in order to determine what, if any, further archaeological work must be undertaken in order to meet the terms of the planning condition.

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During the watching brief the following methodologies must be followed:

  • the archaeologist will be in attendance at such times during the excavation for the groundworks as he or she considers appropriate and necessary; the archaeologist will record the presence or absence of archaeological features and deposits and make all appropriate written, drawn and photographic records of any archaeological deposits which are revealed; all burials must be recorded and removed by the archaeologist; a Ministry of Justice burial licence must be obtained for this procedure
  • all records must be indexed, ordered, quantified, and checked for consistency
  • all artefacts and ecofacts recovered and retained from the watching brief must be fully documented and packed and stored in the appropriate materials and conditions to ensure that minimal deterioration takes place and that all their associated records are complete
  • all artefacts and ecofacts recovered from the watching brief must be assessed, and where appropriate processed analysed drawn and published, by a person or organisation with skills and expertise relating to the artefacts and ecofacts
  • all finders of gold and silver objects, and groups of coins from the same finds, over 300 years old, have a legal obligation to report such items under the Treasure Act 1996. Prehistoric base-metal assemblages found after 1 January 2003 also qualify as Treasure
  • if anything is found which could be Treasure, under the Treasure Act 1996, it is a legal requirement to report it to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery; the archaeological contractor must comply with the procedures set out in The Treasure Act 1996 - Any treasure must be reported to the coroner and to The Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer, who can provide guidance on the Treasure Act procedures

Human remains must be treated with care, dignity and respect. Discussions will be held between the client, contractor, City Archaeologist as to the next steps if unexpected human remains are found. If it is agreed that removal of the remains is essential, the archaeological contractor will apply for a licence from the Home Office and their regulations must be complied with. An osteoarchaeologist should be employed for any burial excavation from the start of the project. Human remains must be shielded from public view

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The report should include:

  • a plan of site with scale showing position of trenches and 8 figure National Grid Reference
  • portfolio of drawn sections, trench plans, and, where appropriate, drawings of artefacts
  • an assessment of the artefacts and ecofacts and where produced reports on any further analyses
  • a full description of and an interpretation of the archaeological sequence, setting the site into the context of the known archaeology of the area;
  • list of sources consulted
  • an index to and details of the location of the physical and digital archive

The long term care of the archive must be provided for. All the original material and paper archive must be prepared for deposition with an approved archaeological depository such as the Yorkshire Museum. These Institutions will charge to cover the long-term curation of the archaeological archive. The requirements of the receiving Institution must be identified at the time of producing an estimate for the scheme of investigation. The digital archive must be deposited with the ADS and costed at the outset.

Our Historic Environment Record (HER) supports the 'Online Access to Index of Archaeological Investigations' (OASIS) project; the archaeological contractor must complete the online OASIS form. We will only accept reports as digital files. The report must be submitted as a Portable Document Format (PDF) files.

Once a report has become a public document by forming part of a planning application, we will place the information on our website.

  • The contractor must give at least 7 days notice in writing of the start of works on site to City Archaeologist
  • The contractor must produce a written synopsis of the results of the watching brief and submit this to us no later than 2 months after the completion of work on site
  • The contractor may be subject to regular monitoring visits by us
  • Reasonable access to the site must be given at all times to the City Archaeologist
  • All work must be undertaken in a professional manner in line with Standards and Guidance for an archaeological watching brief

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Also see


City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA