Last edited 23 Aug 2016

Archaeological officer

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A great deal of damage was done to the UK’s archaeological heritage by construction works in the 1960’s. As a consequence, in the 1970’s, local planning authorities began to appoint archaeologists to provide guidance and advice on the protection and management of archaeological sites and the impact of proposed developments on archaeological remains.

All local planning authorities now employ, or retain the services of, archaeological officers. Sometimes this role may be combined with that of conservation officer, although they are very different, albeit related, functions.

Archaeological officers ensure that archaeological remains are identified, recorded, protected, managed, promoted and interpreted.

Their role might include.

  • Maintaining a database of archaeological remains, known as the 'Historic Environment Record' (HER) (or Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) or Urban Archaeological Database (UAD)).
  • Commenting on draft proposals to ensure that they properly consider the conservation of archaeological remains.
  • Assessing planning applications and considering whether proposed developments are likely to affect archaeological remains.
  • If they believe there is a reasonable risk that proposed developments will affect archaeological remains, requiring that applicants undertake desk-based studies, and if necessary further evaluations such as site investigations.
  • Proposing conditions that might be attached to planning consents to help protect or manage archaeological remains.
  • Assessing the competence and suitability of archaeological contractors appointed to undertake archaeological projects.
  • Monitoring archaeological projects. This requires that they are given adequate notice of proposed works commencing.
  • Providing advice on agricultural an forestry schemes.
  • Providing advice on the conservation of ancient monuments and historic landscapes.
  • Promoting awareness and understanding through education and outreach programmes.

Where archaeological evaluation of proposed developments is considered necessary, this can be analogous to geotechnical site investigation with comparable costs, duration and lead-in times. Because of the time required, it can somtimes be appropriate to begin evaluations even before they have been required by the planning authority.

Managed intelligently and with foresight, archaeology need not inconvenience any construction project. However, this often requires engagement with the local planning authority’s archaeological officer as soon as possible if it is suspected that proposals may affect archaeological remains. This will help identify the procedures that must be followed and avoid abortive work.

NB All historic buildings embody interpretable archaeological information about the people who designed and used those buildings, much of it not available from other sources. That information is embodied in the layout, structure and fabric of the building and can be recorded and analysed archaeologically. In the UK this is referred to as ‘buildings archaeology’. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires assessment and / or evaluation of a building's archaeological potential. Where it cannot be preserved, a detailed record survey should be made.

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