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Archaeological Surveys

An archaeological survey is required by law any time a development project could harm the protection of historic sites and features. Our archaeologists are ready and able to assist clients across the UK with archaeological surveys, supporting planning applications in the process.

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Archaeology and Development

Although not necessarily associated with planning and development, archaeology acts as an important factor in the process of staging land and infrastructure projects. More specifically, developers are required to demonstrate consideration of historical benefits, constraints and impacts on the development site to satisfy the corresponding local authority and avoid unforeseen issues later in the planning process.

In 1990, the government initiated Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 (PPG16) to insist upon the local planning authorities within local councils using archaeology as a component in the decision to grant or deny planning applications. Since then, further legislation within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has emphasised the significance of historical assets as part of efforts to promote sustainable development.

Development-Led Archaeology

A concept commonly known as development-led archaeology or developer-led archaeology, archaeological assessments on development sites are often initiated to provide conservation, preservation and protection over the historic environment and historic assets therein. On average, consideration for archaeological factors save the development industry around £1.3 billion per year, boosting the economy by a direct annual contribution of more than £200 million in the process. With a reliable structure in place from local authorities, as few as 0.01% of planning applications are denied due to the predicted effects on archaeological sites.

Two sets of professional archaeologists are on either sides of the system that connect archaeology to planning. The first are the archaeologists operating on behalf of the local planning authority to support the process of reviewing planning permission applications and putting forward necessary changes needed to protect the local historic environmental and assets, satisfying corresponding laws and the requirements of the local council. The second are the archaeological surveyors that are booked by developers to survey their development site, form an understanding of historic assets present, and mitigate the impacts from the development to allow the project to move forwards without harming valuable historic elements.

Archaeological Services

What is an Archaeological Survey?

In simple terms, an archaeological survey is a form of assessment that opens up an opportunity for an archaeologist to collect and record archaeological information about a development site and the planning project set to happen within it. Over the course of archaeological work, the archaeology consultant will analyse every aspect of the site, including both natural and man-made features, and they will use an approach that enables them to incorporate features both above and below ground.

As well as desktop research prior to the archaeological field survey on the site that will aim to retrieve details of existing archaeological research projects and further information about archaeological remains on or adjacent to the specific plot of land or other sites nearby, an archaeology assessment will include a very large number of different considerations including:

  • Aerial photography
  • Conjunction with the National Grid
  • Contour
  • Earthworks
  • Observations about the archaeological site
  • Previous building plans
  • Site discovery and evaluation
  • Walkover

More information about our archaeological consultancy.

When is an Archaeological Survey Required?

Any time a developer is staging a planning project on a plot of land that holds registered historical importance, an archaeological survey will be needed. However, it may be the case – particularly on undeveloped land – that historical features haven’t yet been identified and could still pose a threat to the development.

As such, it is often advisable to consider booking an archaeology survey as a method of eliminating any issues further down the line and harnessing an understanding of what lies within the ground below. Otherwise, the developer may need to deal with potential hidden problems such as drainage issues, subsidence, or possibly even – for example – unexploded bombs from past wars. That said, the level of detail in an archaeology survey and different kinds of assessments required will vary based on the project and site.

Archaeology and Planning Law

Disregarding the need for archaeological surveys on a site of historical value will be a breach of UK law, and failure to arrange an archaeology survey on the site will be met with certain penalties, such as potentially unlimited fines and/or a long or short period of imprisonment, as well as your planning project suffering significant delays or complete collapse.

With the potential for archaeological sites or features practically anywhere in the UK, legislation has had to guarantee protections over rare or valuable assets across the country. For instance, existing laws that reference the connection between planning and archaeology, and the need for archaeological surveys on applicable development sites, include the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, the National Heritage Act 1983, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Treasure Act 1996, and the National Heritage Act 2002.

Archaeological Survey for Planning Permission

As mentioned above, one of the fundamental purposes of archaeological surveys resides within planning conditions. During any development on a site of historical importance, the developer in charge of the project will be required to arrange an archaeology survey, and if they fail to do so, any applications for planning consent will be rejected until they demonstrate evidence of consideration to the laws on conservation, preservation and protection of historical assets and sites.

Following an archaeological assessment, the archaeology consultant will develop a survey report with the intention of presenting it to the planning department of the local council. Not only will the archaeology report offer insightful information to the developer that could benefit the planning project, but it will also play an integral role in granting planning permission on the site, as it will outline all historic features present, any changes needed to protect them during the development, and ease any other qualms in the eyes of the local planning authority.

Archaeological Survey Techniques

For the insights from an archaeological assessment to carry trustworthy and reliable survey results, each and every survey should be led with the same approach. Bearing this in mind, our archaeological surveys are undertaken using the same methodology and techniques to promote a consistent approach and a dependable outcome.

In an effort to provide further insight, we have explained our field survey methods and listed the archaeological equipment we use below:

Survey Methods in Archaeology

Archaeological features can appear both above and below the ground surface. As a method of surveying all small and large areas of a development site, archaeological consultants need to assess the plot of land and conduct an archaeological investigation in two separate ways:

Surface survey:

Conducted at ground level, surface survey work involves an archaeological consultant detecting artefacts based on a physical inspection of the development site. It helps to see visible features on the site and obscure features that are half-buried and could suggest other archaeological materials that would otherwise be hidden. All findings from the assessment will be recorded on a comprehensive form with written records and photographs attached.

Geophysical survey:

Carried out to determine features below ground level, geophysical survey work necessitates an archaeological consultant using specialist surveying equipment to identify items underground. The highly-specialised tools will enable subsurface testing of the survey area, judging the presence of any archaeological material by sending radio waves into the ground and noting any areas where the radio waves reflect backwards. If none of the data from the preliminary desk study provides an explanation to the geophysical results, the archaeological surveyor may choose to excavate the affected area.

Archaeological Survey Equipment

Consultant archaeologists often use the same significant archaeological resources and tools on every archaeology survey, with exceptions only made if different kinds of archaeological applications are required based on the specifications of the site and project. Different types of field survey equipment include:

  • Compass
  • Dumpy level
  • Global positioning system (GPS)
  • Ground penetrating radar (GPR)
  • Magnetometer
  • Mattock
  • Ranging pole
  • Resistivity meter
  • Theodolite
  • Total station
  • Trowel

Archaeological Survey Costs

Across all of our surveys and assessments, we believe that every client should be given a quote that suits their needs. Without this level of attention to detail, a developer planning a project on a small site may be left paying the same as they would for a large site. Instead, we would prefer to take down the specifications of each client’s site and project before producing an estimate based on these details.

All you need to do is get in touch with our friendly team, and we will be able to work out the cost of your combined field survey and geophysical survey and send an accurate quote back to you based on the information you provide us with. Alternatively, you may be unsure of the assessments you need. If you aren’t entirely sure of the necessary surveys for your site, speak to Arbtech and we can talk you through your current situation and point you in the right direction.

Speak to Our Team About Archaeology Surveys

If you are aware that you need an archaeology survey, need help with deciphering whether an archaeology survey is required, or generally want expert advice with selecting the necessary assessments for your development site, get in touch with us today and our helpful team of archaeological surveyors will assist you in making the next step in your project.

All of the archaeological surveyors in our ranks chose to study archaeology early in their career and went on to earn higher education qualifications on the subject. Based on experience in scientific study and further study into specific areas of archaeology such as ancient cultures, the human past, the stone age, commonly discovered stone tools, Egyptian archaeology including Flinders Petrie-developed methodologies, and expert analysis from written sources, for example, our archaeologists hold an extensive understanding of archaeology and how it correlates with planning and development. Additionally, our archaeologists are registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and are associated to recognised English heritage organisations, making them trustworthy for providing key insights to developers and local councils.

From our communication options, you can choose to call us directly over the phone, fill out a quote form online or speak to us via all of the most popular social media platforms. All that we ask is that you give us as much detail about your development site and planning project as possible as it will give your free quote the utmost accuracy.

Common Questions

In any development project, the necessary surveys and assessments must be considered, booked and undertaken before the local council will even consider applications for planning permission. An archaeological survey is no different, and by ignoring the clear need for an assessment, the developer is only putting themselves and their project in danger.
As with the majority of land and property surveys, the time scale of archaeological surveys is difficult to predict, especially as the size of the site and the number of features present will impact the duration of the assessment. Depending on the development site and proposed construction work in question, a field survey could be as short as several hours or as long as several weeks.
Alongside the two primary survey methods consisting of surface surveys and geophysicpal surveys, an archaeological survey could also feature aerial photography, other areas of geophysical surveys, GIS, LiDAR, measuring resistance, metal detecting, and sampling. It could also incorporate other scientific techniques that are only applicable to specific conditions, such as field walking in ploughed fields.
The cost of every survey we provide is bespoke based on the specifications of each client's development site and project. While the same applies to our archaeological surveys, the cost of an assessment often starts at a baseline price of £250.
Techniques used for archaeological assessments are determined by necessity and the bespoke details of the client's site and project. Due to this, we ensure that only the most suitable techniques are used, eliminating any unnecessary spending at high costs or time lost as a result of needlessly applying the same one-size-fits-all approach to every survey.

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