6. Excavation

Excavation is controlled and intrusive fieldwork, working to defined research objectives. It examines, records and interprets archaeological deposits, features and structures. It may involve the removal of artefacts, ecofacts and other remains and may take place on land, in an inter-tidal zone or underwater. The aim of excavation is to examine the archaeological resource within a given area or site within a framework of defined research objectives, to seek a better understanding of and compile a lasting record of that resource, to analyse and interpret the results, and disseminate them.

## Checklist

* Only carry out excavation if it is crucial to the aims of your project.
* Any excavation techniques used should minimise destruction of the archaeological resource.
* Prepare a project design ahead of starting archaeological work.
* Show your project design to, and consult with your local authority archaeologist.
* Obtain all relevant permissions and, where appropriate, licences before doing any fieldwork.
* Clarify ownership of any objects before excavation begins, and familiarise yourself with the Treasure legislation for the country or province in which you are working.
* Make sure you know what to do in the event of encountering human remains.
* Make sure all equipment and methods are Health and Safety Executive compliant and use risk assessments for any planned activities.
* Keep thorough records during the excavation using appropriate pro forma.
* Follow appropriate guidance for creation and deposition of digital records
* Carefully assess what post-excavation work is required before going ahead with this, and be prepared to alter your research design by assessing your results as you go along.
* Consider from the outset how your project results, documentation and objects will be archived.
* Deposit both the archive and report with the appropriate local and national bodies.
* Think about how you can publicise and disseminate your results most effectively, including possibly through the Festival of British Archaeology and/or Scottish Archaeology Month.


* Consider any confidentiality issues and seek specialist advice if needed.
* Arrange a mentoring procedure within your group or involving another organisation if this is possible.

1. While excavation can be enormously valuable as a research tool it is also by its very nature destructive, and should only be undertaken where it can be demonstrated that information about the human past cannot be acquired by any other means. It should be conducted with a clear set of aims in mind, and should not be used solely as a means of recovering artefacts. The techniques used in the excavation, whether hand-excavated open areas or trenches, machine stripping, or augering or probing, should be appropriate to the overall aims of your project as set out in the project design (see below). It may be more appropriate to follow the principles of preservation in situ, so obtain specialist advice beforehand. Excavation of foundation remains

2. Excavation techniques will vary according to the nature of the archaeological deposits encountered, and you should always ensure that the minimum damage or destruction is caused to the archaeological resource.

3. No matter what the circumstances or intention of the excavation, it is important that a set of aims, approaches and intended outcomes 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/18) (Module 18) for a checklist of what should be included in an excavation project design.

4. 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 will be able to provide feedback about your project design 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 for Jersey or Manx National Heritage on the Isle of Man.)

5. Permission for any archaeological excavation must be obtained from the landowner, who must be in agreement with the overall aims of the project as well as the logistics, methodology and timing of the work. The local authority archaeologist and, where appropriate, the national agency curator, should be kept informed throughout. In Northern Ireland, archaeological excavation may only be conducted with a licence obtained from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. In other countries, no specific licence is required unless the excavation is to be carried out on a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Listed Building, Registered/Inventory Battlefield, or a Registered/Inventory Park or Garden. In these situations, consent must be obtained from the national heritage agency***.
(*** In the cases of Inventory Battlefields, Inventory Parks and Gardens, and designed landscapes, such consent is not obligatory in Scotland.)

6. It is important to bear in mind that in England, Northern Ireland and Wales ownership of any objects found (for example through excavation or fieldwalking) normally rests with the landowner (unless the object is deemed to be Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996), whereas in Scotland any archaeological finds count as treasure trove must be reported to the Crown. In the UK Crown Dependencies there are other regulations, including Treasure Trove law on the Isle of Man. You should obtain the written consent of the landowner for the donation of any archaeological finds if at all possible. At the very least, there should be an agreement with the landowner about what will happen to the finds including clarifying where ownership lies, put in place prior to the survey or excavation.

7. In the event that human remains are encountered, you should contact the police in the first instance. There are guidelines from the Ministry of Justice (see http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/burials.htm), and an exhumation licence should be applied for in most instances (but not in Scotland) before excavation of the human remains can proceed. You should also seek the assistance of an archaeological human remains specialist if possible. For further information, including an email for seeking assistance, please visit the [British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarcheaology (BABAO)](http://www.babao.org.uk).

8. All equipment used should be fit for purpose, complying with Health and Safety Executive regulations. In addition, health and safety considerations must always take precedence over archaeological ones. Model risk assessments to help you decide on appropriate actions to increase on-site safety can be found in the [IfA risk assessment documents](http://www.archaeologists.net/codes/ifa).

9. It is crucial that excavation leads to at least one published account, and an ordered, accessible archive that others can make use of in the future. Full and proper records (written, graphic, electronic, digital and photographic as appropriate) should be made for all work, using durable pro forma record forms and sheets as applicable. Written registers of all site plans, drawings, photographs, special finds and samples should be kept. The area(s) being excavated should be related to the National Grid and the Ordnance Survey datum so that others can locate them accurately in the future. Careful recording of the archaeological deposits is important, but this should be accompanied by attempts to _interpret_ what is found also, both during the work itself and in the report writing phase. For more information about this, see [Deposition & archiving (including data standards advice)](/docs/3) (Module 3).
Excavation of brick walkway
10. For digital records, check that you are using the appropriate techniques, file types and formats by consulting the ADS general [Guide to Good Practice series](http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/goodguides/g2gp.html). All records, whether digital, paper or photographic, should be stored in a secure and appropriate environment, and be regularly copied or backed up.

11. You should try to evaluate the results as you go along during the excavation. This will help you decide the scope for further analysis and publication. New research questions may be asked of the project on the basis of the evidence found during excavation, and it may be necessary to complete a revised project design as a result. The analysis of artefacts, samples and stratigraphic records should be carefully documented, and any data which is generated should be included in the project archive. A list of the sections to include in a post-excavation assessment is included in [Project Design and Project Report Checklists and definitions](/docs/18) (Module 18). For human bones from archaeological sites, guidelines are available for producing assessment documents and analytical reports from BABAO and English Heritage.

12. It is important to start thinking about your excavation archive at the planning stage of the project. The archive consists not just of the artefacts and ecofacts from the excavation, but the documentation, whether in hard copy or digital form. Your local or regional museum will be the first place to discuss the deposition of artefacts and ecofacts with, unless you are in Scotland where you should contact the National Museum of Scotland Treasure Trove Unit. There will be specific packaging and documentation requirements for your archive which the museum can inform you of. Consideration of these requirements should be made in your project design and budget. Any archive should be equipped with a site summary or data structure report (the latter is a requirement if in Scotland) so that future researchers can find their way around the archive easily.

13. 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. This 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.

14. If you are engaged in evaluation of marine archaeology and a significant discovery is made, you may need to keep this confidential until advice from the appropriate national curator (e.g. English Heritage or Historic Scotland) has been sought.

15. Beyond the technical report and site summary, consider publishing your project through a wide range of outlets so that it reaches a diverse audience. For example, journal articles, pamphlets, books and websites are all good formats, and interpretation panels, radio and television programmes, videos and popular publications can also be worthwhile. It is easy to underestimate how useful others will find your project results, so don’t hold back from disseminating your work as widely as possible. 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.

16. 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.

## Suggested further reading

### IfA Standards and Guidance

* [IfA Standards and Guidance for archaeological excavation](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
* Roberts, C. (2009) Human Remains in Archaeology: A Handbook. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 19
* Steiner, M. (2006) Approaches to Archaeological Illustration: A Handbook. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 18
* Dellino-Musgrave, V. (forthcoming) Marine Archaeology: A Handbook. York, Council for British Archaeology, Practical Handbook Series no. 20
* 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: 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

* Bowens, A. (ed) (2008) _Underwater Archaeology: the NAS Guide to Principles and Practice_. Nautical Archaeology Society/Blackwell.
* 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).
* Buckley, L., Murphy, E., and O’Donnabhain B. (2004) _Treatment of human remains: a technical paper for archaeologists_. 2nd ed. Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland. [Download PDF document](http://iai/publications/treatmentofhumanremains.pdf)
* Church of England and English Heritage (2005) _Guidance for Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England_. [Visit website](http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/human-remains-excavated-...)
* English Heritage (2007) _Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment (MoRPHE) Project Planning Note 3 – Excavations_. [Visit website](http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/morphe)
* 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 (2006) _The treatment of human remains in archaeology_. HS Operational Policy paper 5, Edinburgh.
* Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (2006) _Code of conduct for the treatment of human remains in the context of an archaeological excavation_. Dublin: IA. [Download PDF document](http://iai.ie/publications/codehuman1-0.pdf)
* Ministry of Justice (undated) _Exhuming Human Remains: Frequently Asked Questions_. [Download PDF document](http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/docs/exhuming-human-remains-faq.pdf)
* Ministry of Justice (2008) _Statement on burial law and archaeology_. [Download PDF document](http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/docs/burial-law-archaeology-statement...)
* O’Sullivan, J., and Killgore, J. (2003) _Human remains in Irish archaeology_. Dublin, The Heritage Council [Visit website](http://www.heritagecouncil.ie/publications/human_remains/index.html)

### 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: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/goodguides/g2gp.html and http://guides.archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/.
* For information on human remains issues, including ways of contacting specialists, visit [British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarcheaology (BABAO)](http://www.babao.org.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.