Historical archaeology FAQs

Historical archaeology

Where can I visit an archaeological site?

Some historical archaeological sites have been interpreted for the public and are accessible to visitors. These sites may be accessible either on a permanent basis or under appointment. Check Archaeological sites with interpretation for the public page for more information.

How can I work as a volunteer on an archaeological investigation?

Most archaeological work is carried out by trained specialists. But occasionally, on big major projects members of the community are invited to participate on the archaeological excavation under the supervision of the excavation director for the site. 

What do I do if I find an archaeological relic or artefact?

If you think that you have found an archaeological relic or site, ring our historical archaeologists at  Heritage NSW on 02 9873 8500 or email heritagemailbox@environment.nsw.gov.au

Do not remove or disturb the relic in any way.

Depending on the nature of the find, you may be required to undertake some archaeological investigation on the site. These investigations may require a permit under the Heritage Act. Aboriginal sites and artefacts are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Enquiries about these sites should also be directed to Heritage NSW on 02 9873 8500 or email heritagemailbox@environment.nsw.gov.au

A relic is defined in the Heritage Act as 'any artefact, object or material evidence which relates to the settlement of the area that comprises New South Wales, not being Aboriginal settlement, and which is of State or local heritage significance.'

How do I apply for an excavation permit?

If you are excavating land and know that you will disturb a relic, or think that you might disturb a relic, then you need to get an excavation permit issued by the Heritage Council of NSW. To find out more or to download an application form, go to Permits and applications

Are human skeletal remains considered relics under the Heritage Act?

A relic is defined in the Heritage Act as 'any deposit, object or material evidence which relates to the settlement of the area that comprises New South Wales, not being Aboriginal settlement, and which is of State or local heritage significance.'

 Non-Aboriginal human remains with heritage value (for example historic, genealogical, social, aesthetic, religious, scientific or other significance) are considered a relic under the Act and, therefore, cannot be disturbed without an excavation permit. Headstones, grave enclosures, grave goods and associated objects may also be considered relics under the Act.

Human skeletal remains and burial sites assessed as being of heritage significance should, as a principle, not be disturbed and the excavation and moving of human remains and burials should be regarded as a last resort. Consult our publication Skeletal Remains for more information. It can be found on the Publications and forms page.

Many archaeological sites have already been identified through heritage studies, archaeological management plans, archaeological zoning plans or other types of research. Some of those sites are listed on local or regional environmental plans or on the State Heritage Register.

However, large parts of the State have not been investigated by archaeologists as yet. If the area where your property is located has not been subject to investigation you may need to undertake an archaeological assessment to find out whether a valuable archaeological site could be lying beneath the surface.