Advice and information about how we preserve our heritage for future generations.
The county boasts an enviable archaeological legacy, from prehistoric times through to military remains of the 20th century, all of which shape the towns and villages we live in today.
These remains are fragile and cannot be replaced if damaged or destroyed. It is important to preserve our heritage for future generations.
Our heritage services team provides a specialist archaeological information and advisory service, covering such topics as consultancy and advice, excavations and surveys and local information.
Consultancy and advice
The team offers pre-planning advice to potential applicants, whether householder or developer. We provide advice on applications to local planning authorities and management guidance is given to farmers, landowners and agents on agri-environment schemes and new woodland planting.
Excavations and surveys
The team provides information about archaeological work that has taken place in the county and is recorded in the North Yorkshire historic environment record, but does not do fieldwork. Many commercial and research organisations carry out fieldwork in the county, as well as local groups and societies.
Local information about the archaeology of North Yorkshire can be found in the historic environment record, which records information about historic sites and monuments. We cover the area of North Yorkshire outside the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks. The City of York is also outside of our area. The record can be viewed online via the Heritage Gateway website, or in person by contacting the team to arrange a visit.
Local history and heritage
Our heritage services teams:
- provide advice and guidance on the historic and natural environment;
- maintain and manage heritage information and access to it;
- work to secure the long-term management of the county's historic and natural assets; and
- promote the natural and historic environment.
Students and researchers can investigate the background and significance of local and regional history through the local collections of North Yorkshire libraries. The county record office collects and preserves millions of documents relating to the county's history.
Frequently asked questions
Archaeological fieldwork can be carried out by various individuals, organisations or companies, for a variety of reasons.
The majority of projects are undertaken in response to development proposals and professional archaeological contractors or consultants are commissioned to carry out the work, usually by the applicant or developer. Other projects may be carried out for research purposes by local societies, universities and community archaeology groups.
Over the past five years, nearly fifty different organisations and individuals have done archaeological work in the North Yorkshire County Council area.
The North Yorkshire historic environment record, maintained by the County Council's heritage services team, aims to keep database records of all archaeological projects undertaken within the County Council area and holds copies of reports on this work.
Anyone carrying out archaeological work in the North Yorkshire County Council area is encouraged, therefore, to contact the heritage services team and provide details of the work being undertaken and supply a copy of any reports to the historic environment record. In this way, any new information and discoveries will assist our team in managing the archaeology of the County Council area, and also assist others who are using the historic environment record to inform their own research.
Further information about the North Yorkshire historic environment record can be found here.
Archaeological work can take a number of forms:
- desk-based assessment;
- field evaluation by fieldwalking, geophysical survey or trial trenching;
- full excavation recording; watching brief; and
- post-excavation analysis, reporting and archiving.
The type of archaeological work undertaken will depend upon a variety of factors, such as the nature and date of the archaeological remains anticipated, current land use, research questions and the reason for the work being carried out.
Archaeological works in response to development and other land-use change are generally for two main purposes: as evaluation or mitigation.
Evaluation is essentially an information-gathering exercise and may involve a staged approach to a site or area, with each stage informing subsequent work. A range of techniques may be employed, including desk-based assessment, geophysical survey, trial trenching, auger survey and building appraisal. If the work is being carried out as a result of development, as part of the planning process, this evaluation work should be carried out at either the pre-application or pre-determination stage, so the information can be used to inform the planning decision.
Archaeological mitigation is generally undertaken after planning consent has been granted to offset the impact of the development. This mitigation can be secured by either a planning condition or legal agreement. The extent of archaeological mitigation required will vary depending on the character and significance of the archaeology and the nature and degree of harm that will be caused to it. A mitigation strategy may include preservation in situ, excavation, building recording or a watching brief. Post-excavation assessment, analysis, reporting, publication of results and archiving of the physical and digital archive are essential parts of the mitigation programme.
Written scheme of investigation
All archaeological work should be governed by a document which sets out a schedule of works in sufficient detail for the work undertaken to be quantifiable, implemented and monitored, and therefore also forms the basis for a measurable standard. This may be called a written scheme of investigation, but may also be known as a specification or project design. Such documents must be prepared by suitably qualified and experienced persons, utilising specialist advice where necessary.
Standards and guidance
There are a number of professional bodies who provide standards and guidance for archaeological work, which are available online:
This online guidance library includes guidance on an extensive range of topics, including archaeological fieldwork techniques, such as geophysical survey, historic building recording and earthwork survey. There are also guides to a number of scientific techniques, including archaeomagnetic dating, environmental sampling and x-radiography. There are also guidelines for dealing with specific types of material, such as waterlogged wood and organic artefacts and military aircraft crash sites and human remains.
The Institute for Archaeologists advances the practice of archaeology and allied disciplines by promoting professional standards and ethics for conserving, managing, understanding and promoting enjoyment of heritage.
This practice guide has been prepared by the Minerals and Historic Environment Forum as an aid to planning authorities, mineral planners, mineral operators, archaeologists and consultants. It provides guidance specifically for dealing with archaeological remains as part of mineral development through the planning process.
In 2012, the Society for Museum Archaeologists commissioned a survey to investigate a wide range of issues relating to the deposition of archaeological archives in museums, which resulted in a series of recommendations for all archaeologists. The report also includes an interactive map which provides an easy way to access details of organisations that are accepting archaeological archives (related to Local Authority boundaries) and indicates which areas do not currently have a repository available and whether or not there is an archaeological specialist at each location.
A series of guides to good practice have been created as part of a project undertaken by the UK Archaeology Data Service in collaboration with the Digital Antiquity initiative, with the aim of enhancing the preservation of and access to digital records of archaeological investigations. There are guides for a variety of digital media, from project inception through to final archive deposition.
North Yorkshire has a rich and varied historic environment. Almost everywhere around you there is archaeology, yet it might not be obvious to the eye. You can visit the English Heritage and National Trust websites for details of their properties in the region. Welcome to Yorkshire's website also provides information about places to visit, and stay.
Museums and historic properties
There are many places of historic interest to visit in North Yorkshire, including abbeys, castles and stately homes. Many of these properties are managed by English Heritage and the National Trust, others are in private ownership or run by local authorities, museums or trusts.
Using the County Council's Out and About web mapping, you can view layers on a map showing attractions, the locations of museums and historic properties. Tick the box of the layer you wish to view, then click on each icon on the map and a pop-up box will open, where you will find a web link to the relevant museum or historic property for further details.
There are many community archaeology groups and societies throughout North Yorkshire.
To find out more about local groups, you can the visit websites below:
Community Archaeology Forum
The Council for British Archaeology website hosts a Community Archaeology Forum. This forum was created to provide an online meeting place for anyone involved with community archaeology. If you take part in or run a community project, are an archaeological professional involved in community work or simply have an interest in this new and thriving sector of archaeology, the forum's website is a good place to look for resources and expertise to help projects get started, raise funding and learn the best archaeological techniques. There is also advice on where to archive the results of your project and what resources to use to make the most of your research.
The Greater York Community Archaeology Project
The Greater York Community Archaeology Project can help you to get involved in exploring the archaeology and history of where you live. Thanks to the project, a community archaeologist is available to assist people across the Greater York area to explore their local heritage.
Local history and archaeology societies and groups in North Yorkshire
The heritage services team is currently in the process of compiling data about local history and archaeology societies and groups in North Yorkshire, with the intention of creating a layer for the County Council's online mapping so people can find their nearest local group or society, and more details about them. If you are involved with such a group and are interested in details being included, please contact the heritage services team.
Did you know that the County Council has an events page?
Not only can you find out what events are happening near you, you can also publicise your own events. Further details are available on the events page.
You can also find out about events at the county record office here.
CBA Yorkshire's website publicises details of local archaeology and related events in Yorkshire, as does the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the Yorkshire Vernacular Buildings Study Group.
Each year the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team organises a programme of events focusing on the special qualities of the area, including the historic environment.
In a county the size of North Yorkshire, with the wealth of archaeology it contains, there are many research projects ongoing to investigate our past. Some recent research and discoveries are outlined below.
Vale of Pickering landscape research
For more than 30 years, the Landscape Research Centre has been engaged in archaeological research in the Vale of Pickering. Extensive excavations and a lengthy programme of aerial photography and geophysical survey have transformed our understanding of the scale, density and distribution of archaeology of all periods from prehistory through to the present day, in a 200km2 area of the Vale. The Landscape Research Centre website provides information about the fascinating results of this work. You can also access the Landscape Research Centre: Digital Atlas, which presents layers of survey data using Google Earth to show the complex activity in the southeastern part of the Vale between the villages of Rillington and Potter Brompton.
Star Carr Archaeology Project
The Star Carr Archaeology Project is being carried out by the Universities of York and Manchester at the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering. The aim is to better understand what life was like for prehistoric hunter gatherers after the end of the Ice Age, c. 10000-8000 BC. The project website provides more information about the latest research at the mesolithic site of Star Carr and other sites nearby.
Aldborough Roman Town Survey
The Aldborough Roman Town Survey is a project of the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge. A geophysical survey is being carried out over large areas around the present village, which is built over the Roman town. The survey is revealing extensive areas of Roman streets, the walled town defences and individual buildings, including details of rooms, corridors and colonnades.
The archaeology of Roman Dere Street
The construction of the A1 motorway upgrade between Dishforth to Leeming has provided the opportunity to investigate an area of the Vale of Mowbray and northern Vale of York. The A1 corridor may have been used as a route from prehistoric times. In the Roman period, Dere Street was the beginning of the long history of an engineered road which was important into the 18th century as a coaching road, and through to the present day. The main archaeological interest has centred around the Roman fort and settlement at Healam, providing new evidence about native Romano-British settlement.
Prehistoric monuments in the A1 corridor
A recent project undertaken as part of English Heritage's National Mapping Programme work around Thornborough Henges has mapped archaeological features visible in aerial photographs. Two booklets, one general and one aimed at teachers, group leaders and young archaeologists, have been produced as guides to the extensive prehistoric landscape, including henges, cursus, barrows, standing stones and other monuments of the Southern Magnesian Limestone area along the A1 road corridor.
Over the past few years, a number of pieces of landscape-scale research have been undertaken, looking not only at the archaeology of these areas, but also other aspects, including landscape, natural heritage, geology and geomorphology.
Vale of Pickering Statement of Significance
The preparation of a Statement of Significance is the first stage in developing an overall strategy for the Vale of Pickering, as part of the Vale of Pickering Historic Environment Management Framework Project, initiated by English Heritage (Yorkshire and Humber Region). The was prepared by Dr Louise Cooke in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, both organisations and individuals, representing a range of different backgrounds and interests including cultural and natural heritage and planning.
The document aims to raise awareness of the significance of the Vale of Pickering. It may also be used as a reference ;or as an inspiration to future projects, such as in planning projects that may make use of the economic potential of the significance of the Vale of Pickering. It presents a summary of significance for the Vale of Pickering, recognising that significance can have a wide range of different meanings and can encompass many different things and places.
- Vale of Pickering Statement of Significance document 2012 (pdf / 3 MB)
- The Vale of Pickering: An Extraordinary Place. Statement of significance summary booklet (pdf / 4 MB)
Managing Landscape Change
The managing landscape change project was commissioned to develop an environmental evidence base and assess environmental sensitivities and capacity in North Yorkshire to inform a spatial planning strategy for the extraction of minerals.
In January 2011 North Yorkshire County Council, with funding provided by English Heritage, commissioned consultants to develop an environmental evidence base and assess environmental sensitivities and capacity in North Yorkshire to inform a spatial planning strategy for the extraction of minerals. The work is intended, in part, to inform preparation of a Minerals and Waste Development Framework for North Yorkshire and was carried out by Capita Symonds working with Oxford Archaeology North between April 2011 and April 2012.
The research was multi-disciplinary, seeking to assess environmental character and capacity for areas of surface mineral resource potential, covering historic environment as well as biodiversity and landscape issues, to inform the preparation of the North Yorkshire Minerals Core Strategy.
The research has now been completed and a series of reports produced titled Managing Landscape Change: A multi-disciplinary approach to future mineral extraction in North Yorkshire.
A summary of the main findings and recommendations arising from the research are available in the Stage 5 - Final report. It is intended that the information will form part of the evidence base for the development of North Yorkshire County Council's Minerals Core Strategy.
The reports are available to download from the Local core documents - managing landscape change project April 2012 (pdf / 277 KB).
Alluvial Archaeology in the Vale of York
The Vale of York is one of the largest lowland plains in the UK, covering an area of approximately 1,800 km² which extends from the Humber estuary in the south to the watershed of the River Tees in the north. It is bounded by the uplands of the Yorkshire Wolds and North York Moors to the east and by the foothills of the Pennines to the west. The Vale is now a largely agricultural landscape, dotted with market towns and villages, with the historic city of York its central focus. Today its soils are intensively cultivated within a mixed farming economy, the origins of which can be identified in the medieval period, and may extend as far back as the Roman occupation of Britain between the first and fifth centuries AD.
The combination of natural processes of river and floodplain development with human settlement and land-use has created a landscape of distinctive character and subtle variation, in which modern agriculture serves to conceal, but has by no means replaced, a diverse environmental and cultural archaeological heritage. The key to understanding the archaeology of the Vale, and through that how people in the remote past lived in and exploited this lowland area, is the relationship between the rivers, ancient human settlement, and the possible survival of archaeological evidence beneath river-deposited ('alluvial') sediments.
This programme of research involved a partnership between York Archaeological Trust and the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The project aimed to bring together archaeological, geological, geomorphological and hydrological datasets to build a broad picture of past landscape development and human settlement in the Vale.
Landscape History and Human Impacts: The Swale-Ure Washlands
The Swale-Ure Washlands is the name given to a low-lying area between the eastern fringe of the Pennines and the North York Moors, drained by the rivers Swale and Ure. Large amounts of sands and gravels were deposited in the washlands when the ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age (about 15,000 years ago). Today, these washland sediments form a rich agricultural resource, support a wide range of wetland and terrestrial habitats and are extensively quarried by the aggregate industry.
Traces of human activity can be found all the way back to the last Ice Age, preserved as artefacts buried in the river sediments and in prehistoric constructions such as the henges at Thornborough, the Devil's Arrows at Boroughbridge and the Roman road of Dere Street (the current A1).
Because of the character and history of the area, a major research project was funded by English Heritage as part of the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. The work has been completed by a research team in the Geography Department at Durham University, working closely with the Lower Ure Conservation Trust and North Yorkshire County Council, as well as researchers from the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and independent specialists.
The research studied the river and landscape evolution of the area and the impact of human activity since the last Ice Age, and an illustrated booklet was produced to outline the main findings. This booklet opens with an introduction to the landscape context of the washlands, and then explains the main techniques used to reconstruct environmental change. Examples of the research work are presented in a chronological sequence, starting with the evidence from the end of the Ice Age and finishing at the end of the medieval period.
There is also a published monograph about the project: Bridgland, D.R., Innes, J.B., Long, A.J. and Mitchell, W.A. Late Quaternary Landscape Evolution of the Swale-Ure Washlands, North Yorkshire. Oxford: Oxbow Books; 2011.