Development Led Excavation
Development led Excavation, sometimes known as 'rescue excavation' (because the information and artefacts in a
site are 'rescued' from destruction) accounts for the majority of excavation in Britain today.
In the decades following the Second World War, many British towns and cities were being redeveloped. This led to the
large-scale destruction of archaeological remains. Concerns over this led to the development of 'rescue archaeology'.
This was an ad hoc last-minute response to the problem. Archaeological 'units' were set up around the country to
excavate as much as possible before it was destroyed. These units were usually based in local museums or in
university archaeology departments. They had neither the money nor the time to properly excavate sites and could
only concentrate on the most important ones, leaving the remainder to be destroyed without any investigation.
Pressure from archaeologists led to a major change in government policy. In 1990, 'Planning Policy Guidance Note 16:
Planning and Archaeology' (PPG 16 for short) was published. This placed a requirement on local government planning
departments to consider the archaeological implications of any development. Where archaeological remains are
identified, PPG 16 gives a preference to preserving them where they are ('preservation in situ'). This can be done
by relocating the development to the side of the remains or by careful design of the foundations so that they do not
cut into archaeological deposits. If this is not feasible, the alternative is to excavate them and save the
information gathered by this excavation ('preservation by record'). Thus the archaeology continues to be recognisable
and understandable from the detailed records taken during the excavation, even though the actual site has gone.
An important facet of PPG 16 is the principle that 'the polluter pays'. Since developers, such as house building
companies or aggregates firms, are the ones who will be destroying the archaeology, they are expected to bear all
the cost of any archaeological works needed in advance of this development. This has led to a considerable decline
in the rate of destruction, since it places a financial value on the remains. In addition, there are much greater
resources available for those excavations that are necessary.
Planning departments are advised on archaeological matters by professional archaeologists known as 'curators'.
Any excavation work needed as part of the planning process is carried out by a separate group of archaeologists
known as 'archaeological contractors'. Most professional field archaeologists in Britain today are either curators
or contractors. They far outnumber the people who dig for research purposes on sites that do not face a threat of
Learn more about Curators, Contractors, or return to
Choosing a Site.