Archaeological Excavation

Specification for Archaeological Excavation

  1. Introduction and Archaeological Background

    1. This specification, prepared by the Devon County Historic Environment Team (HET) sets out the scope of the archaeological works required as a condition of planning consent granted by the Planning Authority.
    2. The usual wording of such a condition is worded as: “No development shall take place until the applicant has secured the implementation of a programme of archaeological work in accordance with a written scheme of investigation which has been submitted by the applicant and approved by the Local Planning Authority. The development shall be carried out at all times in strict accordance with the approved scheme, or such other details as may be subsequently agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority”.
    3. The principal objective of the programme of work will be to identify, investigate and record the archaeological, artefactual and palaeoenvironmental deposits that will be affected by the consented development.
  2. Written Scheme of Investigation

    1. This document sets out the scope of the works required to investigate, record and report on the extent and character of any surviving archaeological deposits within the application area and will form the basis of the Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) to be prepared by the archaeological consultant.
    2. The Written Scheme of Investigation must be submitted by the applicant or, on their behalf, by their agent or archaeological consultant and approved by the HET and the Planning Authority prior to any development commencing on site.
    3. The Written Scheme of Investigation must include the collecting museum’s accession number and the OASIS (Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) identification number.
  3. Programme of Archaeological Works

    1. Desk-based research

      1. An element of desk-based research will be required to inform the archaeological fieldwork and enable finds and features identified to be understood in their context. This work will need to be undertaken in advance of any fieldwork commencing.
      2. Guidance will be provided by the HET on a site-by-site basis on the appropriate level of desk-based work that is required for a particular scheme.
      3. As a minimum the desk-based research must take the form of an archaeological appraisal of the site to place the development area into its historic and archaeological context. This work will consist of map regression based on the Ordnance Survey maps and the Tithe Map(s) and Apportionments. An examination will also be made of records and aerial photographs held by the HER, as well as of archaeological reports on investigations undertaken in the vicinity.
      4. Please note that the Historic Environment Record (HER) information that the Historic Environment Team (HET) make available online via Heritage Gateway and Devon County Council’s Environmental Viewer are not ‘live’ datasets and so do not contain the most up-to-date HER information. Use of these for commercial purposes is not a substitute for requesting HER information from the HET.  The HER contains the most up-to-date record of Devon’s historic environment. The HET are also aware of information that has yet to be accessioned to the HER or is not otherwise publicly available. The HET can assist in accessing this material, which may be held at the HER or in the Devon Heritage Centre.
      5. If reports are submitted without this reference number and no request for HER data from the Historic Environment Team has been made then acceptance of the report by the Historic Environment Team and/or the relevant Local Planning Authority is likely to be delayed or possibly refused
    2. Area excavation

      1. The area subject to excavation will be agreed with the HET in advance of fieldwork and shown on a plan to be submitted with the WSI.
      2. Topsoil or overburden across the area(s) to be investigated will be excavated by a 360o tracked or JCB-type machine – fitted with a toothless grading bucket – under the direct control of the site archaeologist to the depth of formation, the surface of in situ subsoil/weathered natural, archaeological or significant palaeoenvironmental deposits whichever is highest in the stratigraphic sequence.
      3. Where archaeological deposits are exposed machining will cease and excavations continue by hand to clean the exposed surface. Archaeological features and deposits will be fully recorded by context as per the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists’ Standard and Universal Guidance for an Archaeological Excavation. All features shall be recorded in plan and section at scales of 1:10, 1:20 or 1:50. All scale drawings shall be undertaken at a scale appropriate to the complexity of the deposit/feature and to allow accurate depiction and interpretation.
      4. All archaeological features will be investigated and as a minimum:
        1. discrete features will be fully excavated, and
        2. long linear features will be sample excavated along their length – with investigative excavations distributed along the exposed length of any such feature and to investigate terminals, junctions and relationships with other features.
      5. If excavations reveal a substantial number of repetitive discrete features, such as stake-holes, the HET would require that these should be adequately sampled by excavation to understand their character rather than the complete excavation of all such features.
      6. Should the above excavation sampling strategy not yield sufficient information to allow the form and function of archaeological features/deposits to be determined full excavation of such features/deposits will be required. Additional excavation may also be required for the taking of palaeoenvironmental samples and recovery of artefacts.
      7. Any variation of the above will be undertaken in agreement with the HET.
      8. Should deposits be exposed that contain palaeoenvironmental or datable elements appropriate sampling and post-excavation analysis strategies will be initiated. The project will be organised so that specialist consultants who might be required to conserve or report on finds or advise or report on other aspects of the investigation (e.g. palaeoenvironmental analysis) can be called upon and undertake assessment and analysis of such deposits – if required. On-site sampling and post-excavation assessment and analysis will be undertaken in accordance with guidance in Environmental Archaeology: a guide to the theory and practice of methods, from sampling and recovery to post-excavation.
      9. There should be provision within the project organisation for the site attendance of specialists who can advise on sampling strategies for the recovery of palaeoenvironmental information and with regard to specialist dating techniques, such as archaeomagnetic and OSL dating.
      10. Topsoil should be examined and scanned with a metal detector for the recovery of artefacts.
      11. Artefacts should be labelled and bagged on site.
      12. An adequate photographic record of the excavation will be prepared. This will include photographs illustrating the principal features and finds discovered, in detail and in context. The photographic record will also include working shots to illustrate more generally the nature of the archaeological operation mounted. All photographs of archaeological detail will feature an appropriately-sized scale. Laser or inkjet prints of digital images, while acceptable for inclusion in the report, are not an acceptable medium for archives. Digital images taken during the course of the fieldwork will form part of the digital archive to be submitted and curated by the ADS – see archive section below.  The drawn and written record must be on an appropriately archivable medium.
      13. Where human remains are encountered, their excavation and removal will only be undertaken on receipt of the appropriate licence from the Ministry of Justice. Any consents or licences required will be obtained on behalf of the client by the archaeological contractor. The District Coroner will be informed immediately.
      14. Should any finds identified as treasure or potential treasure, including precious metals, groups of coins or prehistoric metalwork, be exposed, these will be removed to a safe place and reported to the local coroner according to the procedures relating to the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (2nd Revision). Where removal cannot be effected on the same working day as the discovery suitable security measures will be taken to protect the finds from theft.
      15. The results of the desk-based research and a copy of the agreed Written Scheme of Investigation must be made available to the site director/supervisor to enable the adequate interpretation of exposed features/deposits during fieldwork and so that the agreed programme of works is understood and undertaken.
  4. Monitoring by the Historic Environment Team

    1. The archaeological consultant shall agree monitoring arrangements with the County Historic Environment Team and give two weeks’ notice, unless a shorter period is agreed with the HET, of commencement of the fieldwork. Details will be agreed of any monitoring points where decisions on options within the programme are to be made.
    2. Monitoring will continue until the deposition of the site archive and finds, and the satisfactory completion of an OASIS report – see below.
    3. The archaeological contractor undertaking the fieldwork will notify the HET upon completion of the fieldwork stage of these works.
  5. Reporting

    1. Upon completion of the fieldwork and required post-excavation analysis an illustrated report will be prepared. The report will collate the written, graphic, visible and recorded information outlined above
    2. The report will include:
      1. a summary of the project’s background;
      2. description and illustration of the site location;
      3. a methodology of the works undertaken;
      4. include plans and reports of all documentary and other research undertaken;
      5. a description of the project’s results;
      6. an interpretation of the results in the appropriate context;
      7. a summary of the contents of the project archive and its location (including summary catalogues of finds and samples);
      8. site layout plans on an OS base;
      9. a plan showing the location of the areas subject to the archaeological excavations in relation to the site boundaries;
      10. plans of the excavation area must include at least two points annotated with their GPS co-ordinates;
      11. detailed plans of areas in which archaeological features are recognised along with adequate OD spot height information. These should be at an appropriate scale to allow the nature of the features exposed to be shown and understood. Plans must show the orientation of north. Section drawing locations will be shown on these plans. Archaeologically sterile areas need not be illustrated unless this can provide information on the development of the site stratigraphy or show palaeoenvironmental deposits that have influenced the site stratigraphy;
      12. section drawings of deposits and features, with OD heights, at scales appropriate to the stratigraphic detail to be shown and must show the orientation of the drawing in relation to north/south/east/west. Archaeologically sterile areas need not be illustrated unless this can provide information on the development of the site stratigraphy or show palaeoenvironmental deposits that have influenced the site stratigraphy;
      13. site matrices where appropriate;
      14. photographs showing the general site layout and exposed significant features and deposits that are referred to in the text. All photographs should contain appropriate scales, the size of which will be noted in the illustration’s caption;
      15. a consideration of evidence within its wider context;
      16. a summary table and descriptive text showing the features, classes and numbers of artefacts recovered and soil profiles with interpretation;
      17. specialist assessment or analysis reports where undertaken;
      18. an evaluation of the methodology employed and the results obtained (i.e. a confidence rating).
    3. The timetable for the production of the report must be set out in the Written Scheme of Investigation. The HET would expect to receive the report within three months of completion of fieldwork – dependent upon the provision of specialist reports, radiocarbon dating results etc. the production of which may exceed this period. If a substantial delay is anticipated then the HES must be informed of this and a revised date for the production of the full report agreed between the HET and the archaeological contractor.   If a substantial delay is anticipated then an interim report will be produced within three months of the completion of the fieldwork.
    4. It is recommended that a draft report is submitted to the HET for comment prior to its formal submission to the Planning Authority.
    5. Should the development proceed in a staged manner, with each stage requiring archaeological fieldwork, and where a period of more than three months between each stage is anticipated or occurs, then the archaeological contractor shall prepare an interim illustrated summary report at the end of each stage. The report will set out the results of that phase of archaeological works, including the results of any specialist assessment or analysis undertaken. The report will be produced within three months of completion of each phase of fieldwork. At the completion of the final stage of the fieldwork an overarching report setting out the results of all stages of work will be prepared. HET would normally expect to receive the report within three months of completion of fieldwork – dependent upon the provision of specialist reports, radiocarbon dating results etc. the production of which may exceed this period. If a substantial delay is anticipated then the HET must be informed of this, an interim report will be produced within three months of the completion of the final stage of fieldwork, and a revised date for the production of the full report agreed between the HET and the archaeological contractor.
    6. On completion of the final report, in addition to copies required by the Client, a digital copy of the report – in a format to be agreed in advance with the HET – will be submitted to the HET on the understanding that it will be deposited for public reference in the HER and via a web-based version of the HER
    7. The archaeological consultant shall complete an online OASIS (Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) form in respect of the archaeological work. This will include the uploading of a digital version of the report. The report will also include the OASIS ID number.
  6. Publication

    1. Where the exposure of archaeological, artefactual or palaeoenvironmental remains is limited or of little significance the production of a summary report will follow on directly from the field work – see above.
    2. However, should particularly significant archaeological or palaeoenvironmental remains, finds and/or deposits be encountered, then these, because of their importance, are likely to merit wider publication in line with government planning guidance (paragraph 205 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2023). If such remains are encountered, the publication requirements – including any further analysis that may be necessary – will be confirmed with the HET
    3. Post Excavation Assessment, Analysis and Project Designs for further work

      1. Where excavations reveal archaeological, artefactual or palaeoenvironmental deposits that have potential for yielding important information about the site or its environs, through specialist assessment and analysis, this assessment work will be undertaken and reported on in a separate formal Post-Excavation Assessment and Project Design. This document may also fulfil the role of an interim report if a substantial publication delay is expected.
      2. This document will be produced by the archaeological contractor within three months of completion of the fieldwork – specialist input allowing – and agreed with the HET. It will include:
        1. A summary of the project and its background
        2. A plan showing the location of the site and plans of the site showing the location of archaeological features, artefactual or palaeoenvironmental deposits exposed
        3. Research aims and objectives
        4. Method statements setting out how these aims and objectives are to be achieved
        5. Details of the tasks to be undertaken
        6. The results of any specialist assessment work undertaken as part of the production of the formal Assessment and Project Design
        7. Proposed project team
        8. Overall timetable for undertaking the tasks as well as setting out monitoring points with the HET
        9. Details of the journal in which the material is to be published
  7. Personnel

    1. The work shall be carried out by a recognised archaeological consultant, agreed with the HET. Staff must be suitably qualified and experienced for their project roles. All work should be carried out under the control of a specified Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (MCIfA), or by a specified person of equivalent standing and expertise. The WSI will contain details of key project staff and specialists who may contribute during the course of the works – excavation and post-excavation.
    2. All staff, including subcontractors, must be fully briefed and aware of the archaeological work required under the specification and written scheme of investigation, and must understand the aims and methodologies of the project.
    3. Health and Safety matters, including site security, are matters for the consultant. However, adherence to all relevant regulations will be required.
    4. The work shall be carried out in accordance with CIfA Standard and Universal Guidance for Archaeological Excavation
    5. The archaeological consultant shall give the HET two weeks’ notice of commencement of works and shall be responsible for agreeing monitoring arrangements. Details will be agreed of any monitoring points where decisions on options within the programme are to be made.
  8. Conflict with other Conditions and Statutorily Protected Species

    1. If topsoil stripping or groundworks are being undertaken under the direct control and supervision of the archaeological consultant then it is the consultant’s responsibility – in consultation with the applicant or agent – to ensure that the required archaeological works do not conflict with any other conditions that have been imposed upon the consent granted, and they should also consider any biodiversity issues as covered by the NERC Act 2006. In particular, such conflicts may arise where archaeological investigations/excavations have the potential to have an impact upon protected species and/or natural habitats e.g. SSSIs, National Nature Reserves, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Ramsar sites, County Wildlife Sites etc.
  9. Deposition of Archive and Finds

    1. Completion of the project is dependent on the compilation of an ordered and integrated project archive by the archaeological contractor in accordance with this Specification, the CIfA Standard and guidance for the creation, compilation, transfer and deposition of archaeological archives and with Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment (MoRPHE). The archive must also be transferred for long-term curation to a recognised, accredited or trusted repository. An archive is defined as “all records and materials recovered during an archaeological project and identified for long term preservation, including artefacts, ecofacts and other environmental remains, waste products, scientific samples and also written and visual documentation in paper, film and digital form” (ARCHES).
    2. The Archaeology Data Service advises that “Good data management from the very beginning of a project can be key to its success and makes preserving data and preparing it for deposit with ADS much easier”.  The Written Scheme of Investigation must include reference to the archaeological contractor’s Data Management Plan.
    3. The archive will consist of two elements, the artefactual and digital – the latter comprising all born-digital data and digital copies made of the primary site records and images. See section 9.10 below with regard to disposal of the primary hardcopy records.
    4. The Written Scheme of Investigation must set out a timetable for the deposition of the site archive. The HET would normally expect this to be completed within six months of completion of the fieldwork element of the project
    5. Deposition of the archive

      1. As part of the production of the Written Scheme of Investigation or Project Design the archaeological consultant shall contact the relevant collecting museum to obtain a reference number and agree conditions for deposition of the material (finds) archive. The reference number must be quoted in the WSI and within the final report to the Historic Environment Record.  If a museum accession or reference number cannot be quoted in the WSI, for whatever reason, the WSI should state the date on which the collecting museum was contacted to obtain the accession or reference number.
      2. The collecting museums in Devon (Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon and Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery) require that the digital archive (consisting of born-digital and digital copies of relevant written and drawn data produced during fieldwork) must be transferred into the care of a Trusted Digital Repository (see ‘Deposition of the digital archive’ – below) rather than the museum.
      3. The archaeological contractor will therefore need to make appropriate digital copies of all hardcopy elements of the site record – see below.
      4. There is no requirement for the archaeological consultant to prepare an archive for fieldwork projects that do not expose deposits of archaeological interest and yield little or no artefactual material. The condition in these cases will be considered as discharged upon receipt of the report and completion of the OASIS entry
    6. The Material (Finds) Archive

      1. Items in the material archive must be cleaned (or otherwise appropriately treated), ordered, recorded, packed and boxed in accordance with the deposition standards of the relevant museum. It is advised that early consultation with the museum will facilitate transfer of the material archive.
      2. Archaeological finds resulting from the investigation (which are the property of the landowner), should be deposited with the appropriate museum – in a manner to be agreed with the museum – and within a timetable to be agreed with the HET. The composition of the archive shall conform to the collecting museum’s accession guidelines for depositing archaeological material. The acceptance of an archive by the museum will be in accordance with the museum’s accession/collection policies and early consultation with the relevant collecting museum is advised.
      3. The archaeological contractor must, on behalf of the museum, obtain a written agreement from the landowner to transfer title to all items in the material archive to the receiving museum. It is preferable for this agreement to be made at the earliest possible stage following assessment after data-collection. It is not advisable to wait until the archive has been compiled before obtaining transfer of title.
      4. If ownership of all or any of the finds is to remain with the landowner, provision and agreement must be made for the time-limited retention of the material and its full analysis and recording, by appropriate specialists
    7. Deposition of the digital archive

      1. The digital archive will consist of:
        1. all born-digital data (images, survey data, digital correspondence, site data collected digitally etc.) and
        2. digital copies made of all other relevant written and drawn data produced and/or collected during fieldwork – i.e. the primary record comprising context records and indices, sample sheets and indices, finds records and indices, site drawings – earthwork surveys, sections and plans, as well as relevant sketches or notes that aid the interpretation and understanding of the site and its recording, any relevant information undertaken as part of the post-excavation assessment or analysis, etc.
    8. The digital archive must be deposited with a Trusted Digital Repository and thus made publicly accessible, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (2023). It is understood that the only suitable repository for digital archaeological archive is the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) –. Digital archive must be compiled in accordance with the standards and requirements of the ADS.
    9. Guidance on selection for the archive is also provided.
    10. Further guidance can be found at Work Digital/Think Archive: A guide to managing digital data generated from archaeological investigations (Digventures, 2019).
    11. It is expected that a licence to copyright for documentary material, in both physical and digital forms, will be given to the receiving repository. This must be stated within the Written Scheme of Investigation, which should also identify the recipients of each element of the documentary archive
    12. Disposal of the primary hardcopy records

      1. The collecting museum may wish to retain the hardcopy archive to accompany the artefactual material. (For example: where the programme of archaeological works involves the investigation and analysis of regionally/nationally significant archaeological and/or artefactual deposits). In all cases the archaeological contractor must first offer the primary paper record archive to the museum prior to its disposal.
      2. Once the digital archive has been transferred to the appropriate Trusted Digital Repository and the museum has confirmed that this has occurred satisfactorily and that they do not require the hardcopy archive, the archaeological contractor may retain, disperse or dispose of the primary hardcopy items as they see fit. Items may be retained for curation by the contractor, developer or applicant, or offered to a third party organisation for public use or as a teaching resource. The WSI should state how primary hardcopy items will be treated.
      3. Where the collecting museum does not require the hardcopy element disposal may mean physical destruction of the primary record. The WSI should state the proposed disposal method to be employed
    13. The archaeological contractor must notify the HET upon the completion of:
      1. deposition of the digital archive with the ADS, and
      2. deposition of the material (finds) archive with the museum
    14. The archaeological condition will be discharged by the planning authority upon receipt of an appropriate Written Scheme of Investigation – as advised by the Historic Environment Team.
    15. Should the approved programme of archaeological work not be implemented the Planning Authority may take enforcement action to ensure the appropriate implementation of the programme of works.
  10. Public Outreach

    1. Should the excavations expose significant archaeological or artefactual deposits then the archaeological consultant should consider, with the developer or their agent, whether a programme of public outreach should be implemented. This may take a variety of forms, from the provision of notice boards on the site boundary with information on the site and the ongoing results of the archaeological excavations, and the preparation of press releases, through to public open day(s) and talks to local interested organisations. While the cost for undertaking such outreach is borne by the applicant/agent, in certain circumstances the HET may be able to offer assistance in outreach undertaken.

Revised: 11th December 2023