Planning and building

Guidance for archaeological work

Archaeological excavation

The area of archaeological excavation or 'strip' ;map and record are to be specified by the City Archaeologist.

Relevant previous archaeological fieldwork needs to be obtained and referenced during the evaluation work.

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City centre

The contractor needs to have relevant experience of working on complex urban sites and the complex archives which they produce.

The archaeological policy of the planning authority is to seek to preserve at least 95% of archaeological deposits underneath a new development within the city centre area. We will advise an applicant on how this preservation target can be achieved.

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During the evaluation the following methodologies must be followed:

  • overburden will be removed by mechanical excavator under archaeological supervision, down to either the top of undisturbed natural sub-soil or the top of archaeological deposits whichever is the higher. Areas of intensive modern disturbance will be given a low priority in excavation. Where practicable, the fills of these features will be removed by mechanical excavator. A toothless ditching bucket must be used
  • trenches must be shored or stepped if deeper than 1.2m
  • for strip, map and record excavation area can be machine stripped of top-soil under archaeological supervision. A toothless ditching bucket must be used. The location of visible features must be planned. This will be followed by a programme of selected or targeted excavation. The work will excavate, record and environmentally sample the archaeological deposits of importance found on the plot
  • all appropriate records must be made and kept. Records must be indexed, ordered, quantified, and checked for consistency
  • all archaeological contexts must be sampled in accordance with a sampling strategy which must be agreed in advance with the Science Advisor, Historic England, 37 Tanner Row York and approved in writing by York City Council. All sampling must be in accordance with the recommendations contained in Historic England guidance. In addition, the advice of the Regional Science Advisor must be sought with regard to all other aspects of archaeological science, including dating, that might arise on this site. Their recommendations must be followed and confirmation of the adoption of their recommendations supplied in writing to Assistant Director (City Development and Sustainability), City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA
  • all artefacts and ecofacts recovered and retained from the excavation must be 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 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
  • material archive must be assessed for its potential to contribute to artefactual research; and the stratigraphic sequence assessed
  • 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 1st 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 - 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. The expectations of the scope for post-excavation analysis and long-term storage or reburial will be discussed by the client, contractor, City Archaeologist, and the Historic England Science Advisor
  • excavation must stay a safe distance away from pylons, overhead power lines and must avoid known services
  • the commissioning client will advise of any ecological or biodiversity issues which need to be taken into consideration
  • the commissioning client will advise of any protected trees which must be avoided by the evaluation. Damage to trees covered by a Tree Protection Order carries a substantial fine
  • excavation must avoid any Japanese Knotweed (it is the commissioning client’s responsibility to advise their archaeologist if Japanese Knotweed is present on the site)

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The evaluation report should include:

  • a plan of site with scale showing position of excavation area, site levels (AOD) and 8 figure National Grid Reference
  • portfolio of drawn sections, trench plans, a matrix of contexts, and, where appropriate, drawings of artefacts. Where there is a complex of interlocking multi-phased structures, a phasing plan will also be included
  • a full description, analysis and an interpretation of the archaeological sequence, setting the site into the context of the known archaeology of the area
  • an assessment of the artefacts and ecofacts and where produced reports on any further analyses
  • any recommendations for further post-excavation analysis
  • list of sources consulted
  • an index to and details of the location of the physical and digital archive

The long term care of the excavation 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 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 evaluation 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
  • Reasonable access must also be given to the Historic England Regional Science Advisor to the site and to post-excavation work
  • All work must be undertaken in a professional manner paying attention to the Standards and Guidance for an archaeological evaluation

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Contractors must ensure that the question of backfilling and surface re-instatement is discussed with the client/landowner prior to any works commencing on-site.

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Public engagement

The public has a strong interest in archaeological issues. Excavations, both large and small, often attract a great deal of public interest. They also represent an opportunity for people to experience at first hand the excitement of archaeological work. This is recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and in our emerging policy framework.

The archaeological contractor should, therefore, discuss with the Client the level and range of approaches which can be used to present archaeology to the public. An appropriate level of public engagement should be defined and a sum of money set aside to pay for this element of the project.

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Also see


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