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Historical Archaeological Applications

If you want to investigate and report on archaeology there are certain assessments and reporting practices you must undertake for compliance under the Heritage Act 1977

If you are planning to carry out excavation that may harm or disturb historical archaeological relics, here are some of the requirements you will need to consider.

Excavation Permit

If you planning to excavate land in NSW and think that you might disturb a 'relic' or historical archaeological site, or have advice that you are likely to do so, you will first need an Archaeological Approval under the Heritage Act 1977. These are often called 'Excavation Permits'. The first step to understanding whether the land may contain archaeological resources that could be or contain 'relics' is to prepare an Archaeological Assessment.

An Archaeological Assessment will review the historical development of the land, review how the site has been modified over time and what that may have done to any likely (potential) archaeology. The Assessment will assess the significance of the archaeology to answer meaningful questions about how the site can contribute knowledge that cannot be found through other sources. This is known as 'research potential' or scientific significance. If the the archaeology cannot clearly identify research potential in this way, the site's archaeology may not be considered to contain 'relics' under the Heritage Act 1977. If there are no relics, an approval to manage the site's disturbance will not be required.

Relics have been managed by significance since 2009 in NSW which aligns with other provisions within the Heritage Act 1977. Further guidance is provided in 'Assessing Significance for Historical Archaeological Sites and Relics'

The Archaeological Assessment will also address what the impact of the proposed development will be to the relics. It should give advice consistent with the significance (local or State) of the archaeology. It should address what options have been considered to avoid disturbance in whole or in part to retain the archaeology of significance. The management advice should be consistent with existing Heritage Council of NSW Policy and Guidelines.  

In addition to an Archaeological Assessment, there may be other documents that indicate historical archaeological resources are likely. These can include statutory lists like an Environmental Planning Instrument (e.g. Local Environmental Plan - LEP or a State Environmental Planning Policy - SEPP or listing on the State Heritage Register - SHR). These sites can also be included in non-statutory lists like in an Archaeological Management Plan or an Archaeological Zoning Plan or through a National Trust  of Australia Register (NTA).

If the Assessment identifies that an archaeological excavation program is appropriate to mitigate the loss of the archaeological resource and no other option is viable, an Archaeological Research Design (ARD) including an excavation methodology and research design will be required. A suitably qualified Excavation Director will also be required to manage the archaeological program. The Archaeological Assessment, ARD and nominated Excavation Director will be required to support the Excavation Permit.   The nominated Excavation Director should be directly involved in writing the ARD prepared for the application. 

An Excavation Permit is required to make sure archaeological relics are excavated under appropriate supervision and to avoid offences.

Read our Applications and Permit Types page to download the Excavation Permit.


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.

Before nominating an excavation director on a Works Application or an Excavation Permit Application, download the Assessment Criteria and make sure your nominated person would meet the criteria.

Download the Excavation Directors Assessment Criteria


Archaeological Management Plans

Archaeological Management Plans exist for some parts of New South Wales. They identify areas of European/Non-Indigenous/historic occupation from the Colonial and later periods where high concentrations of potential archaeological remains are likely to be found. They provide a high level of assessment and management advice for the future development of sites that contain significant historical archaeological remains and deposits. The advice should be consistent with current legislation and policy.

Archaeological Management Plans are a tool for government authorities, property owners, developers and archaeologists to manage these non-renewable resources. In 2009 the Heritage Council of NSW published guidelines for how to prepare an archaeological management plan. Download Guidelines for the Preparation of Archaeological Management Plans

The following Places in NSW have Archaeological Management Plans

  • Sydney City (Archaeological Zoning Plan), 1991
  • The Rocks and Millers Point, 1998
  • Millers Point Excavation Master Strategy, 1987
  • Newcastle, 1997 and 2015
  • Parramatta (PHALMS, 2000) and AZP 1991
  • Liverpool, 1996
  • Bathurst Regional Council, 2012
  • Goulburn Mulwaree, 2010
  • Port Macquarie, 1994
  • Armidale, 2003
  • Richmond, 1996

Those prepared for Local Councils are available from the Heritage NSW Library catalogue for free download (include link).

Archaeological Management and Zoning Plans also exist for other places in NSW, usually as individual sites. Some of these places are listed on the State Heritage Register. These are often within Conservation Management Plans for sites and can be found within the library catalogue.

Contact us for further information

Heritage NSW

Phone: (02) 9873 8500