what is an archaeological survey

What is an Archaeological Survey?

What is an Archaeological survey

What is an Archaeological Survey?


An Archaeological Survey determines the nature, extent and significance of the historic environment within a specified area. In other words, the survey identifies any historically significant features that need to be protected, and whose presence could have a substantial impact on your site development.

For more detail about Archaeological Surveys, read our guide here.

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Why is an Archaeological Survey important?


Heritage assets – buildings, monuments, areas or landscapes – are protected under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Local authorities are required to consider the presence of heritage assets in planning decisions and can reject plans that disturb them.

Without a thorough Archaeological Survey, you also run the risk of encountering potentially costly surprises in the ground further down the line.

For example, you might find Roman ruins, a discovery which could effectively shut down any project on-site. Other risks you might come across include ancient human remains or unexploded bombs.

Additionally, destroying archaeological sites could result in heavy fines – not to mention the loss of historical assets that could enrich our understanding of human history.


Case study: what could go wrong

In 2020, one family in Warwickshire was fined £160,000 for causing serious damage to a medieval village called Withybrook. Over the course of three years, the family carried out “substantial works” without approval, building:

  • A four-metre wide track
  • A water pipe
  • Troughs
  • Gateposts
  • Fencing

Historic England took legal action, stating that the works caused “a very high degree of harm”, including to the site of a medieval building. As a result, the family members were ordered to pay a six-figure fine – and faced 14 months in prison if the fine wasn’t paid.

When do I need an Archaeological Survey?


The survey should be carried out at RIBA Stage 1, before any major design and construction work is carried out.

Depending on what the survey finds, the results could significantly affect design decisions and project timeframes.

What are the different types of Archaeological Surveys?


There are two types of Archaeological Surveys:

  • Desktop Archaeological Survey: by examining historical records, maps, diaries, newspaper articles, photos and other sources, the survey identifies any heritage or archaeological site assets, along with any existing management plans related to those assets. The survey also assesses the effect of the proposed development on the site’s “historic character” and includes options for reducing or mitigating harm.


  • Archaeological Field Survey: A field study goes beyond a desktop investigation and surveys the land on the site. This could involve a geophysical survey that reveals any remains underground through a variety of methods using radio frequencies, magnetic fields and soil measurements. Archaeologists might also use aerial photography to give them a full picture of the site. This survey is required if a high risk is identified in the desktop survey.

Who can carry out an Archaeological Survey?


You will need a CIfA (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists) accredited archaeologist to carry out the survey.

Some surveyors will be qualified to do above-ground surveys, but for a thorough survey you will want someone who is CIfA-accredited.

Getting started with Archaeological Surveys


As with any site investigation survey, undertaking an Archaeological Survey has historically been a time-consuming process:
1. Find and shortlist suppliers.
2. Ensure suppliers are qualified – they will need to do a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) to answer key questions such as:
a. Do they abide by the Construction, Design and Management Regulations 2015 and by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974?
b. Are they competent CIfA members and abide by the CIfA code of conduct?
c. Do they have the necessary insurance cover (professional indemnity, employer’s liability and public liability)?
d. Do they provide adequate quality control procedures?
e. Are they financially stable?
f. Do they have testimonials from other clients for similar work?
3. Create a scope of service – this will ensure the survey covers all the necessary areas and that the quotes you receive are on a like-for-like basis.
4. Undertake tendering and procurement – send out the instruction to tender (ITT) which will include site information, tender instructions, scopes of service and contracts. Review quotes and assess and select the right suppliers.
5. Draw up the paperwork and sign the contract.

Streamline your Archaeological Surveys with RenKap


At RenKap, we cut that long-winded process down to three easy steps:
● Upload your site details
● Choose your suppliers
● Review the finished report

We will do everything from sourcing suppliers to managing site visits. All you have to do is share your site details with us and, once we’ve sourced the quotes, choose your preferred archaeologist.

RenKap puts together your final report with a summary of what actions you should take next.

By simplifying archaeological surveys, RenKap removes unknown risks so you can get on with what matters to you: designing the best possible development for your site.

Watch our video to see how RenKap works.

[qode_video_box video_link=”https://youtu.be/ltGgq3K5ci4″ video_image=”2942″]

For more on the other surveys your development will need, read our guide to site investigations.

Save time by downloading our Site Investigation Checklist Now

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