4. Desk-based assessment

A desk-based assessment involves gathering together the written, graphic, photographic and electronic information that already exists about the site. This will help identify the likely character, extent, and quality of the known or suspected remains or structures being researched. This is done in order to:

* plan for the recording, preservation or management of the archaeological resource
* plan for the further investigation of the site, if intrusive investigation is intended
* propose further archaeological investigation within a programme of research

## Checklist

* Carry out your desk-based assessment ahead of any other part of your archaeological investigations, such as fieldwalking, excavation or geophysical survey.
* Prepare a project design ahead of starting your desk-based assessment to help guide it, seeking specialist help if possible.
* Show your project design to, and consult with, your local authority archaeologist.
* Consult a wide range of sources and datasets when gathering your information for your desk-based assessment.
* Keep thorough records of your research, while obtaining appropriate permissions to access sites and data, and to reproduce information, considering from the outset how your project results, documentation and objects will be archived.
* Make sure you have permission from the landowner for any site visits.
* Be prepared to modify your project design in light of information discovered through the desk-based assessment.
* Produce a clear report of the desk-based assessment and seek assistance if needed.
* Deposit both the archive (including digital records) and report with the appropriate local and national bodies.
* Publication and dissemination of your work is very important.
* Identify an experienced mentor to advise your work if possible.
* If appropriate, wider publicity of your project could be achieved through arranging a special event for the Festival of British Archaeology and/or Scottish Archaeology Month.

Site Map

1. The desk-based assessment is a crucial stage of any archaeological investigation, and should always be carried out ahead of any fieldwork or other investigations, especially as it will help you to decide what further methods are most appropriate for your site.

2. Desk-based assessments should be informed by a set of aims, approaches and intended outcomes. These are defined at the outset within a specification or project design. This design should be prepared with the help of qualified and experienced archaeologists if at all possible. See [Project Design and Project Report Checklists and definitions](/docs/17) (Module 17) for a checklist of what should be included in a desk-based assessment project design.

3. As with any form of archaeological research, you should contact your local authority archaeologist or equivalent*** to inform them of your planned research. As well as keeping them informed of your project, hence contributing to the archaeological record for the local area, this will also help your project as the local authority archaeologist or equivalent may be in a position to provide feedback about your project and planned work. If your work is to do with maritime archaeology, it will be appropriate to contact the relevant national curator, for example English Heritage, Cadw or Historic Scotland. Make sure too that all the members of your team that will be involved with the project are also aware of the overall project design or specification, and of their roles on the project.
(*** County or local authority Archaeologist in England; Trust Archaeologist in Wales; local authority archaeological advisor in Scotland; Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Heritage Directorate in Northern Ireland, the Archaeological Officer, Guernsey Museum, for Bailiwick of Guernsey, Jersey Heritage on Jersey or Manx National Heritage on the Isle of Man.)

4. The consultation of sources and data collection, following the specification or the project design, should take care to draw evidence from as many appropriate sources as possible relating to the archaeological, environmental, topographical and historical importance of the site. A list of potential sources is included in [Project Design and Project Report Checklists and definitions](/docs/17) (Module 17).

5. Keep full and proper records – including written, graphic, electronic and photographic as appropriate – of your work, making sure that you have the necessary permissions to reproduce or cite particular material. Take care to record the sources of information used as you are doing your research.
Corn drier or malting oven: Image courtesy of Wessex Archaeology
6. Make sure that you have permission from the landowner if you are including a site visit as part of your desk-based assessment.

7. It is possible that a project design may need modifying in light of information uncovered by the desk-based assessment, so be prepared to be flexible with this as the project develops.

8. A report of the desk-based assessment should be produced. See [Project Design and Project Report Checklists and definitions](/docs/17) (Module 17) for what should be included in a desk-based assessment report. Guidance and assistance from qualified, experienced archaeologists should be sought, especially if your group has relatively little experience in writing such reports. This also helps provide ‘peer review’ for your work from others interested in archaeology and familiar with the requirements of report writing.

9. All records, whether digital, paper or photographic, should be stored in a secure and appropriate environment, and be regularly copied or backed up. For digital records, check that you are using the appropriate techniques, file types and formats by consulting the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) general [Guide to Good Practice series](http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/goodguides/g2gp.html).

10. All archaeological projects should be published and disseminated. At the very least, a description of the project and its conclusions should be submitted to your local Historic Environment Record (HER – formerly called the Sites and Monuments Record), and the relevant National Monuments Record or equivalent. In Wales the HERs are held by the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts. The project description should take the form of a report which contains enough information for your conclusions to be scrutinised. The best way to submit this report if your site is in England, Scotland or Wales is online, via the [OASIS system](http://www.oasis.ac.uk). In Scotland, a site summary should be prepared for _Discovery and Excavation in Scotland_ (DES), published by Archaeology Scotland. If you have submitted your report through OASIS, DES will be notified automatically. By using the OASIS system you will also be given the opportunity to have your report included in the ADS ‘grey literature library’ of unpublished fieldwork reports, which will be available online. In Northern Ireland reports should be submitted to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Heritage Directorate. For the Bailiwick of Guernsey, including Alderney and Sark, reports should be submitted to the HER at Guernsey Museum.

11. Arrange a mentoring system for the project if you can. This may be done through your own group (by assigning an experienced group member to monitoring duties), or may involve an archaeologist from your local authority, archaeological trust, university, or a national conservation agency acting as a mentor to your project.

12. You could also consider publicising your work through public events, such as organising an event for the [Festival of British Archaeology](http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk) or [Scottish Archaeology Month](http://www.scottisharchaeology.org.uk/?q=node/33). Other options include:
* [Heritage Open Days](http://www.heritageopendays.org.uk) in England
* [Doors Open Days](http://www.doorsopendays.org.uk) in Scotland
* [Open Doors Days](http://www.civictrustwales.org) in Wales
* [European Heritage Open Days](http://www.ehsni.gov.uk) in Northern Ireland.

## Suggested further reading

### IfA Standards and Guidance

* [IfA Standards and Guidance for desk-based assessment](http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/node-files/ifa_standar...) (pdf file)
* [IfA Introduction to Standards and Guidance](http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/node-files/ifa_standar...) (pdf file)
* [IfA Appendices to Standards and Guidance](http://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/node-files/ifa_standar...) (pdf file)

### CBA Practical Handbooks

* Currie, C. (2005) _Garden Archaeology: A Handbook_. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 17
* Lowry, B. (1996) _20th Century Defences in Britain: An introductory guide_. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 12
* Mytum, H. (2000) _Recording and Analysing Graveyards_. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 15
* Steiner, M. (2006) _Approaches to Archaeological Illustration: A Handbook_. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 18
* Palmer, M., Nevell, M. and Sissons, M. (eds) (forthcoming) _Handbook on Industrial Archaeology_. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 21

All CBA Practical Handbooks are available online at: http://www.britarch.ac.uk/books/handbooks or at CBA bookstalls at events across the country (see http://www.britarch.ac.uk/books/events)

### Other References

* Brown, D. (2007) _Archaeological Archives. A guide to best practice in creation, compilation, transfer and curation_. Institute for Archaeologists on behalf of the Archaeological Archives Forum. Available as free of charge hard copy on request from the IfA (http://www.archaeologists.net) or [downloadable PDF document](http://www.britarch.ac.uk/archives/Archives_Best_Practice.pdf).
* English Heritage (2009) _Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service: Standards for Archaeological Work_. [Visit website](http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/glaas-standards-for-arch...)
* Historic Scotland (1996) _Archaeology Procedure Paper 2. Project design, implementation and archiving_. Edinburgh, Historic Scotland.

### Other Guidance Sources

* English Heritage also provide a database of guidelines and standards for different elements of archaeological practice. Most can be downloaded as free .pdf documents. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications
* For more detailed advice on digital archiving, see the advice pages offered by the Archaeology Data Service at: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/goodguides/g2gp.html and http://guides.archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/.
* [Scotland’s Rural Past](www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk) is a five-year HLF-funded project working across Scotland which provides local communities with an opportunity to get involved with surveying and recording settlement sites in their local areas. SRP have provided a [set of guidance for their groups](http://www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=a...), much of which deals with different archaeological methods.