The following topics review key changes since the previous Research Framework published in 2007.

Compiled by Norman Redhead with contributions by Rachael Reader, Sue Stallibrass, Graeme Attwood, and Vanessa Oakden

1. Planning Policies

Unlike much of the rest of the historic environment, most archaeological sites have no statutory protection. For many monuments, the biggest threat comes from development, and the sole means of protection since 1990 has been through spatial planning policy and process.

Since publication of the Research Framework in 2006 there have been extraordinary changes in national planning policies for the Historic Environment. A draft Heritage Protection Bill, issued in 2008, set out to unify and simply heritage protection procedures through the replacement of primary legislation for scheduled monuments and listed buildings. Under the proposed new legislation historic sites and buildings would be defined as designated or non-designated heritage assets with an architectural, historic, archaeological or artistic interest. The Bill was not enacted but the government pressed on with reforming planning policy guidance for the Historic Environment. Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment was issued in 2010 and replaced Planning Policy Guidance Notes 15 and 16. This reduced guidance to 12 key policies, supported by a Historic Environment Best Practice Guide, and established the new terminology proposed in the draft Heritage Bill. However, primary legislation set out in the Scheduled Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 (REF) and the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990  remained in force.

In 2012 PPS5 was superseded by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).This unified national planning policy guidance as one simplified document. Policies relating to the Historic Environment were for the most part adapted from PPS5, and embedded within the document. A series of Good Practice Advice Notes were produced to accompany the NPPF, including four by Historic England relating to the Historic Environment:

Note 1 – The Historic Environment in Local Plans

Note 2 – Managing Significance in Decision-Taking in the Historic Environment

Note 3 – The Setting of Heritage Assets

Note 4 – Enabling Development

PPG16 had firmly embedded archaeology in the planning process since the early 1990s and there were concerns that archaeological protection may be significantly reduced though the new policies. However, NPPF provides a strong framework for recognising and protecting archaeological interests. It puts emphasis on the pre-application process which reduces risk to a developer by identifying any issues around preservation or schemes of mitigation at an early stage. The whole planning process is underpinned by the requirement to identify heritage assets and provide an understanding of their significance, and how that significance will be managed in relation to the proposed development. The need to consult Historic Environment Records, and for Local Planning Authorities to maintain and provide access to them are clearly established. There is a requirement in cases where archaeological interest is identified but not well defined to undertake archaeological desk based assessments, and even archaeological evaluation, ahead of applying for planning consent. Importantly, the principle of preservation in situ for nationally significant remains is recognised.

NPPF establishes the concept of sustainable development, which runs as a ‘golden thread’ through the whole document. This combines economic, social and environmental roles – importantly recognising the need to contribute to protecting and enhancing the natural, built and historic environment. The NPPF was revised by government in 2018 and 2019. Historic England provide an overview of current legislation and policy documents for the historic environment on their website:

2. Local Government Archaeology Advisory Services

Within the planning process the overwhelming majority of the archaeological resource is managed by local planning authorities and their specialist advisers. For over 40 years local authorities in the North West have funded archaeological services to maintain, protect and enhance the rich archaeological resource of the region. These services are a non-statutory, discretionary resource and have suffered considerably since the 2006 Research Framework in the face of funding pressures on local government. In fact, the loss of local government archaeologists and conservation officers represent one of the most dramatic and negative impacts on the historic environment over this time period. A number of senior local government archaeologists have retired or taken voluntary severance, with their posts not being replaced due to budget cuts. This represents a considerable loss of knowledge and expertise from the sector. A recent review showed only 10.6 full time equivalent posts for local government archaeologists in the North-West, giving it the lowest number amongst England’s regions (Collens 2019). Over the review period, there has been a loss rate of between 30 to 40% of archaeologists and conservation officers in local government in the North-West.

There has also been the closure of several advisory services: in Greater Manchester (Greater Manchester Archaeological Unit at Manchester University), Merseyside (based at Liverpool Museum) and, more recently, the Lancashire County Council service. There have been significant reductions in staff levels through re-structuring of services for Cheshire and Cumbria and the Lake District National Parks. Fortunately, new services have been created to fill the gaps. Despite the cuts, there is still a level of archaeological planning advice and Historic Environment Record access across most of the region, although spread very thinly and with issues of sustainability. The discretionary nature of the service renders it vulnerable to cuts in times of financial hardship.Not only can this lead to unrecorded destruction of the archaeological resource (contrary to the specific guidance provided by NPPF) but also the loss of jobs and skills in the commercial archaeology profession.

Local government archaeology provision at the end of 2019 was as follows:

Cheshire – Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service, hosted by Cheshire West and Chester Council and covering the unitary authorities of Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington. The service is delivered as a shared service between Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester and via SLAs to Halton and Warrington.

Cumbria – hosted by Cumbria County Council and covering the 6 district councils in Cumbria.

Greater Manchester – Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service, hosted by Salford University and covering the ten unitary authorities in the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities. The service is delivered as a joint service through Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Lake District National Park – hosted by the Lake District National Park Authority.

Yorkshire Dales National Park – hosted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (which includes 80 sq miles of Cumbria and 162 sq miles of Lancashire).

Lancashire – Historic Environment Team, hosted by Lancashire County Council, covering 13 of 14 authorities (Pendle opted out).

Merseyside – hosted by the Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service, Sefton Borough Council and covering the five unitary authorities in Merseyside. The service is delivered as a shared service for the five Merseyside unitary authorities.

Principal work areas for archaeology planning advisory services in the North West are as follows:

  • management, maintenance and operation of the Historic Environment Record (HER) – which conforms to national standards, to inform all policy and development control decisions and for the understanding and enjoyment of the historic environment;
  • formulation of, and advising on, policies, strategies and guidance relating to the archaeological resource and the historic landscape to ensure its sustainable management;
  • provision of advice on the archaeological implications of development, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, from pre-determination to post-determination, including the impact of mineral extraction, waste disposal, highways and other infrastructure proposals on the archaeological resource;
  • application and interpretation of archaeological legislation to ensure compliance with statutory requirements;
  • provision of advice on development by statutory undertakers and on environmental management schemes;
  • provision of advice on the management of local authority owned heritage assets and to private owners on management of archaeological sites;
  • liaison with local, regional and national heritage organisations, education providers and others, to formulate researchagendas, to provide information to the local and wider community for the purposes of education, leisure, tourism and research and provide opportunities for community engagement.

Details of contacts can be found at and on the Heritage Gateway

3. English Heritage/Historic England

Similar to local government archaeological services, national government heritage agencies also saw significant reductions in funding in recent years. As part of the restructuring process, the national heritage agency, English Heritage, was transformed in April 2015 with the creation of Historic England. This new body acts as the government’s statutory adviser and consultee on all aspects of the historic environment and heritage assets. Amongst its duties, are the maintenance of the register of listed buildings, scheduled monuments, registered battlefields, protected parks and gardens and conservation areas, and providing expert advice on alterations to Grade 1 and 2* listed buildings and schemes affecting Scheduled Monuments and historic landscapes.  The name ‘English Heritage’ was kept for the registered charity that maintains the National Heritage Collection consisting of over 400 monuments, sites and historic buildings.

Each year Historic England publishes information on the state of the Historic Environment and its value to society. This publication, ‘Heritage Counts’, provides annual details on listed buildings, conservation areas and other designated heritage assets. It showcases best practice in dealing with the Historic Environment and highlights, through a register, Scheduled Monuments, Buildings and Conservation Areas at risk from neglect and poor management. Historic England provides grants and advice to remove ‘at risk’ heritage assets from the register but also provides funds for key thematic survey projects such as the historic textile mills in Lancashire and Greater Manchester, and the Historic Landscape Characterisation mapping programme. Historic England has overhauled its website and now has listing guidance on a wide variety building and monument types

4. Monuments at Risk

Between September 2005 and October 2006, English Heritage carried out a Monuments at Risk survey for the North-West. Of the 1316 scheduled monuments identified, 42% were shown to have some form of risk with 16% being at high risk (English Heritage 2008 Monuments at Risk North West). 1054 of scheduled monuments are in private ownership, with 143 own by local authorities, 113 by government agencies and six by utilities. Most of the 67% monuments that are earthworks are of prehistoric or medieval date, whereas standing structures are mainly medieval or later. Only 12% of monuments at risk lie in a developed or urban environment, with the greatest risk being to rural sites through ploughing, stock erosion and vegetation growth. The Lake District has the largest number of high-risk monuments (65). This study enabled English Heritage to focus on pro-active management of individual monuments to take them out of or reduce the level of risk.

5. Heritage at Risk

Historic England produces an annual survey of heritage at risk, which includes grade 1 and 2* listed buildings, historic parks & gardens, battlefields, Conservation Areas and monuments. Identification of at risk heritage has allowed Historic England to focus on taking proactive measures to remove sites from register. This might include specialist advice, supporting local groups, and providing grant aid. For the North-West in 2019 there were 74 listed secular buildings on the Register which represents 4.6% of the total of grade 1 and 2* buildings. Six buildings have been removed from the 2018 Register because their futures have been secured, and four have been added. 138 places of worship were on the Register, which represents a relatively high percentage of 10.7% (compared with 6.2% nationally), which highlights particular issues with the preservation of churches across the North West. Seven parks and gardens along with 69 Conservation Areas have been put on the Register. 125 monuments (archaeological sites) were listed as being at risk, which was four less than the previous year. The study found that greatest risk to scheduled monuments is from unrestricted plant, scrub and tree growth. Further details can be found at:

6. Countryside Stewardship/Farming Environment Plans

The Environmental Stewardship Scheme, run by Natural England on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been successful in taking account of archaeological sites, and improving the condition of hundreds of monuments (including many that are Scheduled) through sympathetic conservation management. This might include pro-active conservation, display and interpretation, or just taking the land out of cultivation so there is no plough damage. Funding has been provided by Natural England for Historic Environment Records to provide data for the Selected Heritage Inventory for Natural England (SHINE). This has generated substantial consultation fees for some county HERs, but the workload and timescales have been challenging and in one or two cases impossible to manage with severely reduced staffing.

The Countryside Committee of expert archaeologists ‘aims to ensure early and effective input into the development of government policy and advice to ensure that management of archaeological sites and historic landscapes are considered an intrinsic component of wider countryside management. The Committee has recently undergone a reorganisation, it now consists of
* A core Regional Panel with a representative from the eight ALGAO regions who jointly carry out the work of the Committee and representatives from our external partners
* A wider forum of all members of ALGAO organisations and external members who regularly work on land management projects such as Countryside Stewardship, Woodland schemes and other countryside conservation projects.
An annual CPD event with a focus on Committee updates, training and learning will take the place of the former annual meetings. These should be held before or at the start of the HEFER consultation window.’ A raft of best practice advice documents have been prepared by Historic England and are available as pdfs through their website. Further details of the above can be found at:

7. Universities

The period since 2006 has been a varied one for archaeology at our North West universities. Nationally the trend in declining numbers applying for undergraduate courses has halted with demand for post-graduate degrees remaining strong. In 2017 five universities were teaching undergraduate archaeology as either a single or joint honours degree (Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford and UCLAN). This represents an increase on the provision found in 2006. Liverpool Hope University offers a Museum and Heritage Studies MA, and Liverpool John Moores provides a Forensic Anthropology MSc. In addition archaeology and heritage studies are taught elsewhere at Lancaster and Manchester Metropolitan University as part of other degrees. Archaeology and heritage studies are thus spread across nine institutions. In 2017 undergraduate archaeology courses supported 34 academic members of staff in five universities. The Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester had the largest academic contingent with 13 dedicated archaeology staff but was substantially reduced post-2018 and merged with Ancient History and Classics. A large range of subjects were taught including bio-archaeology, environmental archaeology, Egyptian archaeology, forensic archaeology, heritage, material archaeology and prehistoric archaeology, as well as Iron Age, Roman, medieval and industrial archaeology. There is one commercial archaeology unit based at a North West University (Salford). North West university academics undertake research in the region as well as elsewhere in Britain and abroad, and this is reflected in the outcomes of MPhil theses and PhDs from the region’s universities. Similarly, universities from elsewhere in the UK undertake research projects within the North West area. Finding out about this research is problematic; however, the British Library e-theses online service (EthOS) is a recently developed useful resource:

8. Commercial Archaeology/Historic Environment Practice

Commercial archaeology undertaken through the planning system saw considerable growth prior to the economic recession that commenced in 2008. There followed several years of downturn in the construction industry which directly impacted on contracting archaeological companies and consultants, leading to a fragmentation of the profession, with many skilled archaeologists and managers taking a decision to leave the sector in search of more stable employment.  The economy picked up again after 2012, with large-sca​le infrastructure projects and localised hot spots of regeneration facilitating recovery of the commercial archaeology market. Looking forward, the challenge will be to provide enough suitably qualified and experienced archaeologists nationally to meet the needs of new development. Large infrastructure projects such as HS2 is forecast to require a great number of archaeologists over many years​, which may lead to a national shortage of skilled fieldworkers. Sometimes archaeologists from European countries have been employed but Brexit has thrown up potential issues around this The repercussions of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020 have yet to be realised, although early predictions suggest a far greater impact on the economy than that experienced in 2008-12.    

The Forum for Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) provides a unique voice for interests within the profession and commercial world. It has been particularly concerned with improved health & safety, advocacy for the sector, and addressing archiving issues, although the deposition of material from archaeological excavations for long-term curation is increasingly problematic as museums across the country run short of storage capacity

Archaeology apprenticeships are being set up by the sector to address the predicted shortfall. In 2018 a Level 3 Archaeology Technician apprenticeship was established and approved for delivery by the Institute for Apprenticeships. A Level 7 Historic Environment Advisor apprenticeship (post-graduate degree level) has been designed for specialist practitioners in archaeology and is out for consultation. Examples of specialisms include finds, archaeobotany, dendrochronology, geophysical survey, pottery (various periods), and material science. Other apprenticeships for the historic environment are being developed including: Cultural Heritage Conservation Technician Level 4, Historic Environment Advice Assistant Level 4, and Level 7degree apprenticeships for Archaeological Specialists and Conservators. Further details can be found at:

9. Archives/Museums

The archaeology profession has been aware for a number of years of a growing problem with depositing archaeological archives with museums. National Planning Policy indicates that archaeological archives should be stored in the relevant local museum or other public depository. The archive is an integral part of the archaeological recording project – as advised in Historic Environment Good Practice Advice Planning Note 2. Yet several museums are now having to turn away archives offered to them, whilst some archaeology contractors have growing storage issues of their own through having to retain excavation archives. A number of factors are at play, including lack of museum space, undervaluing the cataloguing, deposition and storage costs, the need to be more proactive in selecting material to deposit (which, in part, may reflect a paucity of staff appropriately skilled in the suite of material categories), lack of curatorial staff due to local government funding cuts, the need to rationalise existing archive collections, how collections are valued, the lack of connection with academia and researchers. There is a need for clear guidance on archives with best practice models to provide confidence and clarity in the process. In April 2017 CIfA and HE organised a workshop in their 21st century Challenges in Archaeology series which dealt specifically with this subject and the way forward: ‘Archaeological archives: new models for archive creation, deposition, storage, access and recreation: what can the sector do to redefine the archaeological archive and realise its public value? CIfA have posted the results of the workshop and proposed action plan at:

The Archaeology Data Service (ADS) plays an increasingly significant role in making digital archives publicly accessible. Major thematic and landscape surveys, such as Historic Landscape Characterisation, have been archived. The data service also hosts OASIS which captures data on investigations undertaken by heritage environment practitioners: Some archaeological contractors in the North West region have provided copies of their field work reports to the grey literature archive at ADS: It was intended that county HERs validate grey literature reports uploaded onto OASIS but lack of resourcing has led to a patchy approach to this across the North West. A new version of OASIS is due to launch in 2020.

The Society for Museum Archaeology has produced best practice guidance on archaeological collections for museums and which museums are accredited to manage archaeological archives

10. Renewable Energy

The last decade has seen a great increase in renewable energy schemes, especially wind farms and solar energy where government grants have provided a major impetus. Wind farm proposals have generally been informed by Environmental Impact Assessments. One of the archaeological challenges for upland wind farms has been the difficulty of identifying lithic archaeology under blanket peat. Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas have been under pressure from a rash of solar panel installations. Historic England have issued guidance on dealing with potential conflicts between renewable energy and the historic environment and its sustainability:

11. Maritime/Coastal Erosion/Rapid Coastal Survey

On April 1st 2010 the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) was founded to license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England so that they are carried out in a sustainable way. The MMO is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the English Heritage (now Historic England) is a statutory consultee for applications for marine licences. These apply to several activities between the Mean High Water Springs to the limits of Britain’s territorial waters (as defined in accordance with the They include extraction and deposition (aggregates, waste disposal), construction (windfarms, harbours) and coastal flood defences.

Since 2006 there have been several major extensions to offshore windfarms in North West England, including those near Walney Island and Barrow in Cumbria, and in Liverpool Bay near Crosby and Wirral (Burbo Bank).  In addition, cabling from Scottish offshore energy generation schemes are also traversing waters off North West England. Historic England deals with the offshore issues (drowned landscapes, wrecks, intertidal deposits, the visual impact on designated assets including National Parks and World Heritage Sites), whilst the Local Authority planning departments and their archaeological advisors provide advice and planning controls for onshore works such as cabling and distribution centres. There is an overlap between authorities in the intertidal zone.

UK Government 2017 Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

The  North West of England is massively underrepresented in terms of nationally designated wrecks.

12. Thematic Surveys

One of the key thematic surveys has been focused on the iconic industrial monument of the North West – the textile mill. Greater Manchester had a textile mill survey in the second half of the 1980s but there was a general recognition that there was a growing rate of loss and abandonment of those nearly 1000 mills identified at that time. This led to Historic England funding a survey review which was undertaken by the University of Salford in 2015-18. This found that only 540 mills survived – a loss of 46%. Prior to that, Lancashire had its first comprehensive mill survey, undertaken by Oxford Archaeology North from 2008-15 (again funded by English Heritage/Historic England), so that the resource could be quantified and the most important examples put forward for listing to give greater protection. The study identified 1661 textile mills and ancillary works that had been built in the county, of which only 619 survived. Historic England has used this ‘Buildings at Risk’ survey data, together with a study on economic re-use: ‘Engines of Prosperity: new uses for old mills’ to focus attention on recognising the plight and also opportunities for these unique structures. Further details can be found at:

The Lancashire Mills Survey has been published:

13. Large-Scale Landscape Surveys/Parks & Gardens

The National Trust has invested in several large-scale surveys across its North-West estates since 2006. Examples of these include a comprehensive survey of Dunham Massey estate’s standing buildings and park landscape in Greater Manchester, a similar survey for Styal Mill in north Cheshire, and historic landscape studies in Lake District National Park at Borrowdale, Nether Wasdale, Buttermere and East Coniston. Many of these surveys are multi-period. They represent an important increase in our knowledge of some of the best preserved and significant estates and landscapes in the North West. They form an important resource for understanding and managing the historic environment.

There have been several cross-period studies of landscapes enabled by pipeline or road schemes. Amongst these have been the West East Link Main Pipeline, West Cumbria Pipeline, and the Quarry Hill to Stainburn and Cockermouth pipeline extensions, whilst for road schemes examples include the Heysham to M6 Link Road and the A556 Knutsford to Bowdon routes. Oxford Archaeology North has undertaken several of these projects, and has made results accessible through the ‘Human Journey’ website and by publication.

Several large-scale HLF supported landscape partnership projects have made important contributions to recognising, understanding and protecting the historic environment across large swathes of countryside.An example is the Morecambe Bay Partnership which included community training in archaeology, surveying and safeguarding monuments.

A comprehensive online resource for historic parks and gardens has been established and shows details on hundreds of sites in the North-West, whether listed or not. Historic England’s website has a dedicated section on parks and gardens and listing guidelines.

14. Historic Landscape Characterisation

The national mapping project for the North West was completed in 2012 with the addition of Greater Manchester, a project funded by English Heritage and undertaken by Greater  Manchester Archaeological Unit This followed on from completion of the other North West metropolitan county area, Merseyside, in 2011 . Reports for other county area surveys, completed at earlier dates (Lancashire in 2003, Cheshire in 2007 and Cumbria in 2008), have recently been added to the Archaeology Data Service archive:

Cheshire (2013)

Lancashire in (2017)

Cumbria & the Lakes (2014)

Urban Archaeology Databases

For managing Nantwich’s waterlogged deposits

15. Environment Agency

The Agency has been through considerable re-structuring since the last Research Framework was published. The EA now has archaeologist in all regions, with two principal archaeologists taking the lead on national issues and engagement. These form part of The National Environmental Assessment Service (NEAS), a business orientated group within the EA, project managing the environmental impact of the EA’s own multi-million pound capital and revenue flood risk management schemes and strategies.

The country has been split up into a series of areas (which largely mirror the HE regions in the North and Midlands).  It has established consultancy delivery teams to provide more collaborative working between partners. The north region includes Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire and a small part of northern Shropshire.

16. Canal and River Trust

Nationally, the Trust is responsible for 2,663 listing buildings and 50 scheduled monuments and over 2000 miles of waterways. In the North West in 2013 there two Grade 1, four Grade 2 and 410 Grade listed buildings together with three scheduled monuments. The Trust has a team of heritage experts who ensure that the heritage is managed appropriately, including schemes of recording where engineering works take place or maximising opportunities for community engagement through volunteer participation or public events.

The Trust aims to:

• Base our policies and practice on a sound understanding and recognition of the history and significance of the waterways heritage.

• Apply the optimum conservation standards to maintain the integrity and authenticity of our heritage assets.

• Accept a presumption in favour of conservation of these heritage assets, while recognising the wider aims, objectives and resources of the Trust.

• Work with others to secure the conservation of the wider context and setting of our waterways.

• Benchmark and report on our heritage conservation performance at regular intervals.

• Maintain a Heritage Advisory Group to advise us on our policies and to monitor performance.

The Trust is moving towards securing England’s first bespoke Listing Building Consent Order, allowing it to carry out routine maintenance operations in accordance with best conservation practice without having to continually apply for listed building consents.

Significant historic environment recording and conservation projects have been undertaken in recent years which are highlighted in an annual report:

17. Climate Change

English Heritage funded the North West Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment which identified many heritage assets under threat from coastal erosion

Archaeological studies have also been undertaken ahead of and during flood defence schemes which have included storm tanks, river profile changes, flood basins and removal of historic weirs. The latter have also been under ecological pressure to remove barriers for fish swimming upstream, creating a tension between natural heritage and the historic environment.

In response to the growing threat of flooding and coastal erosion, which have hit the North West badly in recent years, Historic England have developed policies and advice

A number of historic assets have been under severe threat from flood damage and this has led to a wide range of studies and recording projects. One remarkable example was the Roman site of Papcastle (Derventio) where severe flooding in 2009 removed around one metre of topsoil to reveal extensive Roman settlement remains with remarkable levels of survival, leading to a successful long-running community archaeology project.

18. Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund

The Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) was introduced in April 2002 to provide funds to tackle a wide range of problems in areas affected by aggregates extraction. English Heritage, along with English Nature and the Countryside Agency, distributes the funds on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The core objective of the English Heritage ALSF Programme is to reduce the impact on the historic environment of aggregate extraction, both terrestrial and marine.

  • developing the capacity to manage aggregate extraction landscapes in the future.
  • reducing the physical impacts of current extraction where these lie beyond current planning controls and the normal obligations placed on minerals operators
  • addressing the effects of old mineral planning permissions
  • promoting understanding of the conservation issues arising from the impacts of aggregates extraction on the historic environment
  • delivering to public and professional audiences the full benefits of knowledge gained through past work in advance of aggregates extraction

Archaeological Data Services, which hosts ALSF project archives, lists several schemes that have been completed or taken place since 2006

  • England’s Historic Seascapes: Liverpool Bay Pilot Area (Wessex Archaeology 2006)
  • Evaluating Aggregate in North West England (David Jordan 2007)
  • Kendall Fell Quarry, Kendal, Cumbria (Oxford Archaeology North 2007)
  • Aggregate Extraction and the Geoarchaeological Heritage of the Ribble Valley and Kirkham Moraine (Oxford Archaeology North, University of Liverpool, 2007 (updated 2008))
  • Aggregates Extraction and Archaeology Backlogs: North-West Region (ArcHeritage, 2011)
  • Historic Seascape Characterisation: The Irish Sea (English sector) (Sam Turner, Caron Newman, 2011)

19. Aerial Photography/Drones/LiDAR

The continued development of Google Earth and google maps aerial photography has provided historic environment researchers with powerful analysis tools. Google Earth’s historic time points dating back to the early 2000s are useful for mapping landscape and townscape changes in recent times. Archaeological contractors increasingly utilise drones for aerial photography of large-scale excavation sites and can use high resolution, geo-rectified imagery to accurately map excavation detail.

One of the most important developments in aerial digital technology has been the release of LiDAR data into the public domain. The Roman Road Research Association, which formed in 2015, has  already demonstrated the benefits of having access to this resource ( For instance, one of several newly discovered sections of Roman road include the Ribchester to Lancaster road (Ratledge 2017, p 77-9).

20. Scientific Applications

One of the most exciting aspects of undertaking this review of archaeological activity over the last 12 years has been the development and application of science. The following period chapters illustrate this very well, witness Rachel Newman’s description of the significant results of routine radiocarbon dating using Accelerator Mass Spectometry for supposedly late Roman sites, which have produced a series of early medieval dates. The Cumwhitton Viking Cemetery project in Cumbria used analytical techniques to accurately identify archaeological jet and other jet-like materials. X-radiography, X-ray florescence and Fourier transform spectroscopy were applied in the investigation of two jet-like objects which were actually confirmed to be oil shale, not jet. The appliance of a variety of scientific techniques and high-quality conservation have transformed knowledge of this Viking cemetery in which the excavated remains would have provide relatively limited information due to the challenging soil conditions. It begs the question of how much data has been lost in past investigations. However, this level of resourcing is probably not realistic for many smaller, developer-led investigations.

Of particular note is the amount of information being extracted from detailed scientific analyses of skeletal remains. For instance, at Papcastle Roman settlement a Roman period skeleton from the hypocaust of the bath house underwent strontium analysis of tooth enamel. This revealed the skeleton belonged to a local man born and raised in the area. At Norton Priory there has been a remarkable study of medieval skeletons displaying Paget’s disease

Several large scale post-medieval cemetery skeletal assemblages have received detailed osteological analyses, providing inciteful information on industrial period diets and health.

It is clear that the larger scale infrastructure or government sponsored projects are able to generate higher levels of funding for a range of scientific analyses and it is often these projects that achieve exceptional research results. However, it should be acknowledged that procuring funding for comprehensive analytical work on smaller commercial projects can be very problematic.


A collaborative research project led by Dr Moira Watson at the University of Manchester developed a method for dating ceramics from archaeological sites, with a Royal Society paper appearing in 2009

file:///G:/Q%20Drive%20backup%20Dec%202019/Development%20Control/Admin/Best%20Practice/RHX/datingpottery.pdf .

This was based on the theory of fired clays very gradually re-absorbing moisture over time at a measurable rate. Successful experiments led to a NERC project to test the theory, with the  project summarised in the final newsletter in 2014.


It is not clear whether what the future of this process is as a commercially viable and dependable dating technique, but clearly it has huge interest for archaeologists as ceramics are so ubiquitous to excavation sites.

21. Geophysics

There have been a number of large-scale geophysical surveys across the region. Of particular note are the successful surveys of Roman fort vici such as Maryport, Ravenglass, Papcastle which are summarised in the Roman chapter. It is still widely believed that geophysical survey across swathes of the North West, where glacial clays dominate the superficial geology, are unreliable. The quality of survey methodologies, equipment and data has improved enormously since the last Research Framework was published but what is still needed is a comprehensive review of the results of evaluation trenching and excavation mapped against geophysical survey interpretation. There is a now a huge corpus of data available for such an exercise.

Graeme Attwood has provided the following overview of recent developments in geophysical survey prospection:

Since the last publication of the North West Regional Framework in 2006, the application of archaeological geophysics has changed significantly, even if the underlying principles remain. Driven by the reduced costs and vast improvements in both computer processing power and data storage, geophysical instruments have become more capable and intelligent. Survey has become more efficient, survey areas have got larger and datasets have grown more detailed.

The advent of more affordable positional technology, with sub-centimetre precision, sped up the process of accurately setting out and tying in survey grids, meaning more time could be spent collecting data. Consequently, survey areas started to grow in area. Although the release, shortly before 2006, of dual-sensor gradiometers offered the potential to double the density at which data was collected in a given time frame (thus increasing the clarity of datasets), survey companies in the highly competitive world of commercial geophysics took the opportunity to effectively double the survey area that could be expected to be covered in a day’s work. Large survey areas were preferred over smaller, targeted datasets; this is a trend that continued over the next decade.

As surveys have become larger, so has the equipment. Many companies now use cart-based data collection for magnetometer survey, although this change has only been adopted ‘wholesale’ in the last 3-5 years. This shift in method has once again allowed an increase in the number of sensors in simultaneous operation, while also allowing the concurrent collection of other datasets, such as accurate GPS positional data.

GPS-tracked instrumentation has greatly improved data quality: grid- and surveyor-related artefacts have been significantly diminished. Within the last year, the emergence of commercially viable three-axis magnetometers in the archaeological sector has reduced problems of instrument drift, while better calibration systems have also enhanced datasets. Attaching these cart systems to All Terrain Vehicles once again opens up possibilities for collecting ever larger data sets and surveys of 200 or even 300+ hectares are not uncommon. Greater equipment capability and survey efficiency have also contributed to the dwindling of the magnetometer ‘scanning’ survey – already in decline in 2006, it is now essentially a thing of the past.

Thus far, this summary has concentrated on magnetometry, reflecting the fact that it has long been the mainstay of archaeological geophysics, however advances have been made in most techniques.

Ground Penetrating Radar surveys have become more common, with the technology becoming correspondingly more advanced. Multi-channel instruments are now available, offering either multiple frequency datasets from a single pass or an array of close-centred parallel traverses, resulting in unprecedented resolution and significantly improving data clarity. These array-type instruments can also be towed, further increasing the quantity of data that can be collected. Robotic Total Stations and RTK GNSS systems are now also commonly used to locate GPR data in real time, further increasing coverage and accuracy.

Of the three most common techniques, resistance survey has probably seen the least change: it is likely that GPR will, if it has not already, overtake resistance survey as the second technique in terms of quantity of commercial survey undertaken each year. Having said that, the continuing development of towed resistance platforms may see it gain back some of that lost ground. The release of updated resistance meters and the MSP25 multi-sensor platform has enabled the collection of around 2ha of square array data per instrument per day over good terrain. This can also be real time positioned with an RTK GNSS or robotic total station.

Recently, archaeological advisers in areas with deep alluvial deposits have been advocating the use of electromagnetic survey to identify deeply buried paleo-environments. It is possible to collect electromagnetic and magnetic datasets simultaneously with hand or quad towed cart systems, thus allowing for very large areas to be covered with a minimal increase in survey time.

Ten years ago the resultant volume of data collected by the above instruments above would have crippled the majority of computers found in the offices of archaeological contractors. It is not uncommon to produce multiple gigabytes of raw and processed data in a day of survey. Fortunately, computers have more than kept pace with the increasing size of geophysical datasets, although this volume of data can cause complications with current archiving arrangements.

22. Portable Antiquities Scheme (Vanessa Oakden)

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a British Museum partnership project, funded though the museum’s grant-in-aid (from DCMD) with local partner contributions. Its database holds records of archaeological finds discovered by members of the public. These are found while carrying out a wide range of activities, substantially metal-detecting. The first record was made in 1998; now the database holds 1.3 million finds. Within the North West PAS began as one of six pilot schemes following the introduction of the 1996 Treasure Act. One Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) covered the whole region, recording archaeological objects discovered by chance. Following the success of the pilot scheme the region was divided into two separate areas with a FLO post for Cumbria and Lancashire and another post for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The previous Regional Framework was compiled prior to the establishment of the PAS.

Up until 31 December 2016, 30,110 objects from the region were recorded on the PAS database within 16,393 records. These figures are being added to daily due to the success of the PAS within the region. By recording objects found by members of the public, the records created can be used in research on a wide variety of projects, such as PhDs, professional research and desk based assessments as well as for smaller projects within schools. The aim of PAS is to advance archaeological knowledge, and it has proved a valuable source of archaeological data and research tool. It is hoped it can support the wider research within the Regional Framework.

23. Community/HLF

Community archaeology has played an increasingly important role in archaeological research since 2006. In particular the Heritage Lottery Fund has grant aided some very significant archaeology projects, either stand-alone or as part of broader landscape or historic building schemes. Projects in the past have rewritten the history books (think Mellor), have given people opportunities to learn new skills (and even sometimes to change career), not just heritage-related but those intangible things like team working, improving confidence etc., which HLF deem to be just as important as learning how to accurately record a site.  Archaeological projects have helped people to appreciate, and therefore better care for, their local area much more.  The following chapters have good examples of community engagement projects supported by HLF have made a major contribution to period research, for instance the suite of Roman extra-mural settlement projects such as Papcastle, Maryport and Ravenglass in Cumbria.

The Historic Environment has benefited from substantial HLF support for the restoration of some of the region’s most significant and vulnerable buildings; this includes a churches fund administered by English Heritage. Where historic buildings have suffered from major neglect, fire and flood damage, the HFL has been able to help fund recording, research and restoration works.

The Rainford’s Roots community archaeology project, funded by HLF and run by the Merseyside Archaeology Society and National Museums Liverpool between 2013 and 2014 enabled a community to engage in their local industrial heritage, whilst instigating research into the pottery and clay tobacco pipe manufacturing industries of the region . This project resulted in groundbreaking discoveries and a significant publication on the post medieval  ceramic industry of Rainford which now provides a pottery type series for the North West.—two-publications.html

Due to the way the HLF database is constructed, it is difficult to drill down into detail, but some broad statistics are available on the contribution to archaeology projects in the North West. Between April 1994 and March 2016, HLF awarded £19 million to 99 archaeology projects. This compares with £289 million in the whole of England over the same period for 1.135 projects. Of the 99 North West projects, 55 involved research (Rebecca Mason – NW HLF Development Officer).  

Many significant volunteer archaeological research projects have been undertaken without HLF support. The Dig Greater Manchester community archaeology project was funded by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester together with Blackburn & Darwen. Many local archaeology societies have carried out significant research projects, including historical research, historic building surveys, geophysics and excavations. This work provides a research balance to the skewed distribution of commercial archaeology projects as it often takes place on land that is protected from development. The contribution of volunteers to historic environment research was the focus of a study funded by Historic England: This study found that generally ‘outcomes have been prioritised over research outputs, and online availability and accessibility of associated research was poor.’ The updated wiki-based research frameworks being developed in the near future will enable local voluntary archaeology groups to find out how their project fits in with the wider picture and encourage them to post their research results.

24. North-West Heat Mapping Exercise (Rachael Reader)

As part of the update to the North-West Regional Research Framework, one of the intentions was to utilise local HER data to create a ‘heatmap’, which would highlight archaeological hotspots across the North-West since the previous framework in 2006.  All local authority HERs provided data to allow a heatmap to be created, however it became clear that the differences across the methods of mapping archaeological events meant that this would not be an easy or quick exercise to conduct.  A number of issues were identified which means that any map produced cannot reflect the true amount of archaeological activity that has taken place in the NW over the past ten years.

The mothballing of the Merseyside advisory service between 2011 and 2016 has meant that this dataset is incomplete.  Although the HER was reinstated in 2014, the advisory section was not reinstated until 2016 therefore the true number of archaeological events is unknown from this period.  The team has drawn together as much information as possible to repopulate the HER from these ‘missing’ years as well as digitising pre-2011 records which only existed in paper format. 

Greater Manchester’s data is consultation based, rather than event basedwhich is generated prior to archaeological work taking place.  The data extracted is only for those sites where archaeological work was recommended however it cannot be guaranteed that it was carried out at every single site.  This information was only logged from 2008 onwards, therefore there is still information missing.

The HERs do not have a consistent approach to the recording of event data, for example, the Lake District National Park logs many of its volunteer/community led surveys whereas other HERs mostly have commercial data.  Most of the counties use a combination of point, polygon and line data to map archaeological event data and at first, the polygons were simply converted into point data and mapped alongside the original point data.  However, it was realised that several polygons were often attached to one event record and digitised separately, therefore several points were generated for one event which skewed the heatmap data (see the images below). This was the case for the NAIS project which incorporated parts of Lancashire, where aerial photographic interpretation was logged as separate polygons.  When converted to point data and then heat mapped, it created a large hotspot for only one event (see below).

The heatmap for the northern prt of Lancashire shows the NAIS Upland Survey hotspot

These polygons (above) derive from one event: trenching at a site in Merseyside.  Because they are separate entities, when a heatmap is created (see below), it creates a hotspot (green arrow) and skews the data

One possible way forward to obtain the most accurate data for the heatmap is to reduce down the data to generate one event point per event recorded.  Although this may dilute some of the event data down further, it appears to be the only way to take a consistent approach to all the data from each county.  However, it was established that this would much more time than allocated and was  beyond the scope of this project.  In total, it took around six days to generate the heat mapping and would probably take around another five to filter the data down to one event per point.

The first version of the heatmap separately mapped the data from each HER.  Two problems arose from this; the first one being the hotspots generated in the Lake District which clearly did not all relate to development control work in the area.  The second related to separately mapping the counties which meant that they would have their own parameters

The second version of the heatmap combined all of the data into one database so that the heatmap generated would be a consistent across the whole area.  Differences can be seen between the two maps in the data generated when it was mapped under the same parameters across the NW.   For example, around Carlisle the ‘heat’ decreased, however around Chester the ‘heat’ increased.  The LDNP data had been filtered down to development control only, however an issue was then found with the Greater Manchester data.  This was all consultation data initially, however this included sites that did not have any archaeological planning condition attached.  This created large hotspots which again, did not necessarily reflect the level of development control.  The NAIS Upland Survey hotspot was also spotted (see above).

The third version of the heatmap filtered down the consultation data from Greater Manchester.  This time, only the point data was included in the overall database for Cheshire as it was realised that there was a significant overlap and duplication between the point and polygon data.  It can be seen that the intensity of development decreased when only mapping the point data but there is still some uncertainty as to how much of this data overlaps here, Merseyside and Greater Manchester provided GIS files from their data; Lancashire provided polygons only and mapping from Cumbria and LDNP were generated from excel files.

The heat mapping exercise has been very interesting in showing different types and levels of archaeological work since 2006 but it can be seen that due to a range of factors it has not been possible to use it to generate a definitive dataset.