Understanding historical archaeological relics

This page explains the key information to be considered when evaluating a proposal's impact on historical archaeological relics.

To ensure that you are managing relics well, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the nature of the site, the likelihood that it contains relics and if so, what the impacts of a proposal would be (explained more below). This review can be a desktop assessment.

Anyone can use the following sections to understand if the development should proceed and to manage any impacts to relics.

This can be drawn from available sources such as a heritage study or Local Environmental Plan (LEP) listing information, local histories (published or unpublished). Older maps or plans may be available in existing documents such as Land Title information or online. A basic history should not involve detailed new primary research. It can be presented as an historical summary or a timeline/chronology of key dates/events.

Relevant questions to be answered are:

  • is it likely that the site contains historical archaeological relics?
  • are the relics likely to be present across the whole site or only in certain locations?

Some places in NSW also have archaeological management plans prepared for them which may also provide useful historical and archaeological information. The table below has a list of the archaeological management plans in NSW. Many can be found in the Heritage Library. 

Local Government Area




Port Macquarie/

Hastings LGA


Management Plan, Port Macquarie

(Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3)


Edward Higginbotham & Associates

Review of Port Macquarie Archaeological Management Plan


Suters Architects

Sydney City Council

Archaeological Zoning Plan for central Sydney (including maps)


Dana Mider and Siobhan Lavelle

Sydney City Council - The Rocks and Millers Point

The Rocks and Millers Point Archaeological Management Plan

(3 volumes)


Edward Higginbotham, Terry Kass and Meredith Walker

Sydney City Council – The Rocks and Millers Point

Millers Point 8900 : archaeological master strategy


Damaris Bairstow

Sydney City Council – Pyrmont and Ultimo

Pyrmont and Ultimo Heritage Study

Includes an Archaeological Zoning Plan

(1 page map in study)


Anglin & Associates

Bathurst Regional Council

Bathurst Regional Council Archaeological Management Plan

(Vol 1, Vol 2)

(Earlier version dates to 1992)


Edward Higginbotham & R Ian Jack


Archaeological Management Plan for Armidale


Pamela Watson


Liverpool Archaeological  Zoning and Management Plan

(town centre)

(Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3)


Casey and Lowe and Tracy Ireland


The future of Parramatta’s past: an Archaeological Zoning Plan 1788-1844

(Vol 1, Vol 2)


Edward Higginbotham & Associates


Parramatta Historical Archaeological Landscape Management System (PHALMS) (3 volumes)


GML Heritage



Newcastle AMP

(2 volumes)


Suters Architects Snell & Siobhan Lavelle

Newcastle Archaeological Management Plan Review (4 volumes)


Edward Higginbotham & Associates

Goulburn Mulwaree

Goulburn Mulwaree Archaeological Management Plan

(3 volumes)


Edward Higginbotham, Terry Kass and Sue Jackson-Stepowski

Hawkesbury City Council

Archaeological Management Plan Richmond, NSW


Edward Higginbotham and Associates

Maitland Council

Central Maitland Archaeological Management Plan




This can be drawn from available sources such as a heritage study or LEP listing information. Additional guidelines for assessing the significance of historical archaeological sites and relics under the Heritage Act 1977 should also be considered. These include:

The NSW Heritage Council has specific criteria for significance assessment as follows:

  • Criterion (a) an item is important in the course, or pattern, of NSW’s cultural or natural history (or the local area);
  • Criterion (b) an item has strong or special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in NSW’s cultural or natural history (or the local area);
  • Criterion (c) an item is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in NSW (or the local area);
  • Criterion (d) an item has strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW for social, cultural or spiritual reasons (or the local area);
  • Criterion (e) an item has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of NSW’s cultural or natural history (or the local area);
  • Criterion (f) an item possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of NSW’s cultural or natural history (or the local area); and
  • Criterion (g) an item is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of NSW’s cultural or natural places or cultural or natural environments (or the local area).

Statements of significance outline why the relics are important. A succinct statement of significance should be prepared based on the criteria above and indicate whether relics are present and whether they are of State or local significance.  A key question is:

  • what information might be found from archaeological study of this place?

An exception cannot be used for State significant sites or relics.

Describe the proposed works or activities for example: trenching for installation of new services, other excavation, or ground disturbance such as site levelling, cut and fill, removal of topsoil, landscaping. Important questions are:

  • what impact would the proposed works have on the identified significance of the place and its relics?
  • what measures are proposed to mitigate negative impacts?
  • have other solutions been considered for example the redesign or repositioning of the works?

The strategy to be used to manage the intended works will derive from the information gathered, including:

  1. the overall nature of the site
  2. the likelihood of relics, and
  3. the nature and degree of impact from the proposed works.

If relics are unlikely an appropriate strategy might be to undertake the works with an Unexpected Finds procedure (an example can be found in Relics of local heritage significance: a guide for minor works with limited impact.)

If during works an historical archaeological relic is found, all work must stop, and a formal notification is required under section 146 of the Heritage Act 1977. An application and approval may be required to continue the project.

If ‘relics’ are likely to be present and would be disturbed by the works then it will be necessary to complete works under a s139(4) exception or a s140 excavation permit. 

If in doubt, a professional archaeologist will be able to assist you in the preparation of documentation to show how the archaeology at the site will be protected and recorded.