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Archaeology and Construction: Best Practice if you Uncover any Remains

March 1, 2017

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What are you meant to do if you uncover archaeological remains when you’re digging foundations or landscaping? For centuries, the approach was pragmatic: “finders keepers”, and site bosses didn’t want the hassle and delay of calling in the archaeologists. Many ancient remains were destroyed before they could be investigated.

Since the early 1990s, however, there has been a greater partnership between the UK construction industry, local museums and the Crown. Building sites have been responsible for most of the archaeological discoveries in the UK, and these days archaeology is part of the planning process.

The National Planning Policy Framework (revised 2012) links archaeological work to planning permission. Planning applicants have to show that they are aware of possible “heritage assets” on their site.

Photo: BBC News

Photo: BBC News

So, what do you do if you uncover remains? First up, bones. If it’s very obviously a pig’s skull, no problem. But if the bones could by any chance be human, you are legally bound to stop digging and call the police. They will arrange for an expert to visit and check.

If the bones prove to be an ancient human burial, archaeologists will probably want to do a brief survey, in case it is part of a bigger heritage site. Chances are, though, the bones will be ‘scatter’ and probably not human, and you’ll be cleared to dig again. For further details, check this link.

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What about coins or jewellery? If you’ve uncovered gold or silver objects, or coins deliberately buried in a container, you’re probably dealing with treasure trove. It needs reporting, and you may receive half the value of any sale. If you’ve just found a couple of isolated coins, you should still report it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. They will log the find on a database, with the exact find location, but you will be allowed to keep it.

If it looks like you’ve hit an unexpected structure, it’s suggested that you contact your local museums department, who can visit and tell you very quickly whether you can continue or whether they want to investigate.

For further information, check out these links: Archaeology and Construction, or Archaeology at Construction Sites, or Archaeology and Construction (not the same as the other article).

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