Policy, standards and guidelines

We work to develop effective standards and guidelines for historical archaeology with the help of trained specialists working in the field.

Our aim is to improve the quality and accessibility of archaeological work in NSW and to encourage education and interpretation of archaeological sites. 

Heritage NSW has used the findings from the reports to consider the allocation of resources and priorities for archaeological projects within our Branch. Findings from the Reviews have informed changes to permit conditions; data management within the Branch for historical archaeology; increased public outreach; and the ongoing revision of older publications and other initiatives.


These publications can be downloaded for free:

Note: The 'relics' provisions of the Heritage Act were amended in 2009. When using earlier documents it is important to check the current legal definitions and requirements arising from amendments to the Act. If unsure please check with our historical archaeologists on 02 9873 8500.

Stabilising stuff: a guide for conserving archaeological finds in the field

The publication Stabilising Stuff: A Guide for Conserving Archaeological Finds in the Field  was an initiative of the Archaeology Advisory Panel to the Heritage Council of NSW. International Conservation Services Pty Ltd donated considerable staff time to assist in the project.

This guide will be helpful during large-scale archaeological excavations (‘digs’) to ensure that sensitive materials are appropriately managed in the field, and will help archaeologists fulfil their responsibilities towards the conservation of archaeological remains under the NSW Heritage Act 1977.

It focuses on first-aid conservation as a critical step in the preservation of artefacts and in situ remains. The guide provides information essential for a comprehensive understanding of the role of conservation within an archaeological project, but individual sections can be also used as a quick reference to help solve difficult or unforeseen situations in the field.

For the purposes of this guide, archaeological remains include all items defined as ‘environmental heritage’ in the NSW Heritage Act 1977, i.e. those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects and precincts of State or local heritage significance. Archaeological remains include in situ remains and artefacts recovered from archaeological sites.

Archaeological Management Plans

Archaeological Management Plans (AMPs) identify areas of European occupation where high concentrations of potential archaeological remains are expected to be present. AMPs contain management recommendations and policies for the archaeological resource and identify the procedures to be followed.

This can avoid delays to development through unanticipated finds, additional costs, expanded project scope, physical restrictions, redesign and other issues which may result from inadequate planning, poor risk management and lack of knowledge about archaeological requirements. The guidelines explain an appropriate scope of works, timeframe and the support requirements needed for a useful and viable AMP.

Archaeological Management Plans

Assessing Significance for Archaeological Sites and Relics

Amendments to the Heritage Act made in 2009 changed the definition of an archaeological 'relic' under the Act. A relic is  an archaeological deposit, resource or feature that has heritage significance at a local or State level.

The definition is no longer based on age. This significance based approach to identifying 'relics' is consistent with the way other heritage items such as buildings, works, precincts or landscapes are identified and managed in NSW.

The guideline Archaeological significance  gives advice about how to assess the heritage significance of known and potential archaeological resources, features or deposits and determine whether they are 'relics' as defined by the Act. The key issue is whether a deposit, artefact, object or material evidence that survives from the past is significant. If it is significant, it will need to be managed under the 'relics' provisions of the Heritage Act.

Previous Studies

Interpreting Archaeology: The Home of Archaeology lies in the Heart of Modern Communities 2002

In 2002 former Heritage Branch Archaeologist, Natalie Vinton, was awarded a $6,000 Travelling Fellowship in Public Sector Management. Her project took her to the USA to undertake a study of international best practice in the interpretation of archaeological resources. You can download her report on public access to archaeology in the US:

Ruins: Working Policy Statement

A ruin is the fabric of a constructed and usually immovable structure, mostly above the ground which is in a transitional state between dereliction and an archaeological site . Ruins may have cultural significance through possession of inspirational, evocative, aesthetic and research values as well as an ability to demonstrate those values.

In many cases, when an item's state as a ruin is a primary element of its significance, management through preservation will be justified, rather than partial or full reconstruction, and processes of controlled and recorded decay may be acceptable.

Permits and approvals 

You will need to make an application to the Heritage Council of NSW if you are going to disturb or excavate any land in NSW that is likely to contain archaeological remains. See the Applications page.

Selecting an excavation director

Since 1981 the Heritage Council of NSW has provided policy and published practice guidance about how archaeological sites should be investigated and managed under Heritage Act approvals.

An essential requirement is that archaeological excavations are undertaken and managed by suitably qualified and experienced people, known as Excavation Directors (ED).

In September 2019, the Heritage Council of NSW approved an updated version of the Criteria for Excavation Directors. The revised document was prepared by an expert Working Group comprising professional industry archaeologists and government archaeologists and others such as Project Managers who use the Criteria to find suitable consultants.

Criteria for Assessing Excavation Directors (2019)

Key changes to the revised Excavation Director Criteria are:

  • Addition of a review process for Excavation Directors. This explains in what circumstances a review would apply, the timeframe, process of review and required documentation for it.
  • Text to clarify the place of the ED Criteria in the context of Heritage Council approval processes for Statutory applications in NSW
  • Text to better explain the roles of Applicants, Excavation Directors and more guidance on how the system may be used to assist mentoring in the profession
  • Advisory notes to help archaeologists of all experience levels to better demonstrate their credentials against the Criteria and present their relevant archaeological experience, skills and knowledge. This will also assist developers and other applicants to gain a clear understanding of the relative suitability of the person they wish to nominate as an ED for their project.

If you have questions about the revised Excavation Director Criteria (2019) and how these may be applied, contact our Specialist Services Team of historical archaeologists via email heritagemailbox@environment.nsw.gov.au or phone (02) 9873 8500.