Historical archaeology FAQs

Can I visit any historical archaeological sites?

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. 

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 is a 'relic'?

A 'relic' means any deposits, artefact, object or material evidence that:

  • relates to the settlement of the area that comprises New South Wales, not being Aboriginal settlement, and
  • is of local or state significance.

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

If you think you have found an historical archaeological relic or site, contact our Specialist Services Team of historical archaeologists via phone 02 9873 8500 or email heritagemailbox@environment.nsw.gov.au  Please 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. 

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, you will need to apply for an excavation permit issued by the Heritage Council of NSW. See the Applications page. 

Are human skeletal remains considered relics under the Heritage Act?

Non-Aboriginal human remains with heritage value (for example historic, genealogical, social, aesthetic, religious, scientific or other significance) are considered a relic under the Heritage Act 1977 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. See our publication Skeletal Remains  for more information. 

How much do we know about historical archaeology sites in NSW?

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.

Museums and school tours

Contact these organisations to find out what is currently on offer:

  • The Rocks Discovery Museum: offers a diverse range of educational programs that give primary and secondary students an in-depth insight into the museum, which has unique collection of images and archaeological artefacts found in The Rocks. 
  • Sydney Living Museums conducts school tours and events which regularly include archaeological aspects of their sites. In particular, the Cumberland/Gloucester Street archaeological site will be of interest.
  • National Trust of Australia (NSW) Schools Programs is an excellent resource for school children. The site looks at National Trust sites, some of which have been excavated at different times. Archaeology is also incorporated into some of the site tours.
  • The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust conducts excursions on Cockatoo Island for primary children.