Archaeology

Archaeology

Find out about archaeology in Northumberland and how we work to look after the county’s historic environment.

Our conservation efforts

We strive to conserve and enhance Northumberland’s historic environment by:

  • offering specialist advice to planners and developers
  • encouraging good management of archaeological and historic monuments
  • managing and providing information sources
  • carrying out research projects
  • promoting the environment through our publications
Northumberland National Park has its own archaeologist who provides advice and management services and runs community events and projects.

Archaeology & planning

Find out how we can help you consider archaeology when making a planning application.

Archaeology & the national planning policy framework
The government’s national planning policy framework (NPPF) sets out the protection given to heritage through the planning process.
Pre-application advice
It is best to consider any archaeological implications a development could have as soon as possible. A problem recognised in the early stages enables more flexibility in design and layout.

We can discuss your proposal and offer advice on:
  • the best course of action
  • how to satisfy archaeological conditions
  • how archaeological work can be carried out
To request pre-application advice please contact us by: Till and Tweed Valleys
Specific guidance is available for managing the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental resources of the Till and Tweed Valleys in north Northumberland. Our free guide can assist in compiling environmental impact assessments.
Planning application process
When you submit a planning application, we will assess the impact the proposed development may have on archaeology and provide one of the following recommendations:
  • no objection
  • request more information or archaeological work
  • refusal
If we ask you for more information to assess the archaeological impact, you will need to commission an archaeologist to carry out the work before the application can be determined.

You may be asked to do one or more of the following pieces of work:
  • a desk-based assessment which makes a detailed appraisal of available information about a site
  • a field evaluation to investigate archaeological remains – this could include field walking, geophysical survey and/or trial trenching
Where can I find a professional archaeologist?
Look in the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Directory, or search the internet and Yellow Pages.
Alternatively, request the details from us: The county council cannot accept responsibility for the quality of work provided by consultants.

What happens when the archaeological work has been done?
What happens next depends on whether archaeological remains will be affected by your proposed development. Our decision will depend on the importance of those remains – if they are of national importance the application may be refused. Sometimes it’s possible to accommodate archaeology in the design of the development.

Planning conditions
If planning permission is granted, there may be an archaeological condition requiring you to do one or more of the following:
  • excavation and recording – to provide a lasting record of archaeological evidence unavoidably destroyed by the development
  • building recording – to provide a lasting record of built structures that will be altered or destroyed by the development
  • watching brief – to record archaeological evidence during the course of the development
Charges for our service
There will be a charge for certain key pieces of work resulting from:
  • pre-determination enquiries
  • post-determination requirements
  • mitigation requirements
The cost of each service will depend on the size and nature of the application.

With the exception of site visits, payment will be required in advance, either by the developer or their appointed archaeological contractor or consultant.

Historic Environment Record

Learn about the archaeological and historic remains in Northumberland with the Historic Environment Record (HER) – a database with more than 26,000 entries including monuments, buildings, landscapes and shipwrecks.

What is the Historic Environment Record?
The Historic Environment Record (HER) is an important starting point for conservation, fieldwork and research into the historic environment. It also informs local communities about the history and archaeology of Northumberland.

It was originally developed as a planning tool to identify archaeological or historic remains likely to be affected by development, now it is also a resource in:
  • land-use planning
  • conservation initiatives
  • research
  • tourism
  • education
  • local history projects
How can I access the Historic Environment Record?
The Northumberland HER is held at county hall in Morpeth but we also have a shortened version available on the Keys to the Past website. Please contact us to retrieve the relevant information from the HER: If you are making an enquiry, please be as specific as possible and include:
  • the reason you need this information
  • what you intend to do with the information
  • a contact phone number or email address
A reply will normally be sent within five working days from receipt. For more information, please see our HER access and charging policy and if you are planning a research project, please read this advice note.
What does it cost?
  • if your enquiry is for personal research, the HER search is free
  • if your enquiry is for a commercial project we will make a charge according to our charging policy for development management services

Archaeology projects

Find out about the projects we have been involved with, which help to promote the archaeology of Northumberland.

Berwick urban waterlogged deposits
Archaeological excavations in Berwick have shown there are deep, complex and relatively undisturbed medieval layers buried under the town, some of which are waterlogged.

Waterlogged deposits are important because they preserve organic material, like leather, seeds, bone and shell, that doesn’t usually survive under other ground conditions.

Because waterlogged deposits are vulnerable to changes in ground conditions, for example through building schemes, the council was commissioned by Historic England to look at the distribution and significance of waterlogged deposits in the town so they can be properly considered in the planning process.

Evidence from archaeological and borehole investigations were used to make a model of the town’s buried archaeology using a geographic information system (GIS).
Extensive urban survey
The Northumberland extensive urban survey is a study of 18 historic towns in the county. It is part of a national survey to help local authorities, Historic England and others to care for our towns and cities in the future and to ensure archaeological information is available early in the development process.

The survey reports have been compiled over a number of years and will be kept under review to take into account recent discoveries, fieldwork, research and changes in planning guidance.

The reports can be downloaded below: Further information about extensive urban surveys can be found on the Historic England website.
Rock art
Rock art is prehistoric rock carvings found on boulders and rocky outcrops in parts of Britain and Ireland. They are an important part of our historic environment and one of the more mysterious and poorly understood aspects of our past. We know very little about why the carvings and symbols were made and what it may have meant to the people who created it.

The Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project
Although stone is a relatively resilient material, water erosion and changing temperatures make many carvings very fragile. In order to record and conserve them, the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project was set up in 2004 to pilot the creation of a rock art archive.

This archive has been made publicly accessible over the internet and forms the basis of the first ever national rock art database – England's Rock Art.

The project developed a recording system which means that rock art across the country can now be recorded in a standardised way. This was achieved with the help of local groups and individuals and funding from English Heritage. England's Rock Art
England's Rock Art incorporates the work from the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project and the Newcastle University Beckensall Archive Project.

It is intended similar recording projects will eventually be undertaken for all areas of England which contain rock art and the database will be updated as the records become available.
Keys to the Past
Keys to the Past is a Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided project run jointly by Northumberland and Durham County Councils.

It provides online access to a complete record of the archaeology of the two counties, including a glossary, parish histories and background information about the archaeology and history of the region.

Keys to the Past is based on data held in the Northumberland and Durham Historic Environment Records.

Please note that archaeological contractors are advised not to use Keys to the Past as their main source of information as it holds only summary HER information and does not include the most recent updates. 
Past Perfect
Past Perfect is a New Opportunities Fund grant-aided project run jointly by Northumberland and Durham County Councils providing online access to seven very different archaeological sites.

Using virtual reality and interactive technology, with 3D reconstructions, you can navigate around reconstructions of the sites, learning about their history, how they were discovered and how archaeologists interpret the finds they discover.

A CD-ROM version is also available by contacting us by:
North East Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment
The North East Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment (NERRF) is one of a series of regional research frameworks promoted by Historic England in collaboration with local authorities.

Its purpose is to help make decisions about future archaeological and historic environment research in North East England (Northumberland, County Durham, Teesside, and Tyne and Wear). It will also help provide structure to developer-funded fieldwork.

Find out more: Any queries or questions relating to the NERRF should be directed to Historic England (North East Office) by:

Archaeology in Northumberland

Learn more about the archaeology of our county through our magazine Archaeology in Northumberland and our other publications.

Publications
We publish the magazine Archaeology in Northumberland and a range of other archaeology books, you can order these by: Some of the publications can also be viewed online or downloaded free of charge.

Where there is a cost for the publication, you can pay by:
  • phone: using a credit/debit card
  • post: using a cheque made payable to “Northumberland County Council” and post to Conservation Team, Development Services, Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 2EF
Archaeology in Northumberland magazine
Volume 22 (2016) is now available: includes a celebration of 25 years of development-led archaeology, community projects, Doggerland, Heritage at Risk and Iron Age settlement excavations. The list of assessments and evaluations which is usually published in the magazine is available here.




Past editions - all free of charge
No 21 (2014): includes features on sites in south-east Northumberland, Holmes Linn lead mine, community projects, Harehaugh hillfort and mining at Whittonstall
No 20 (2011): includes features on Flodden, community projects, rock art and Second World War bunkers.
No 15 (2005): includes Chillingham Cattle conservation project, Blyth Battery, a spotlight on Corbridge and excavations at Alnwick Castle Gardens.
No 14 (2004): includes the portable antiquities scheme, the National Park village atlas and the launch of Keys to the Past website.

Other publications
Friends of Archaeology in Northumberland
The Friends of Archaeology in Northumberland supports the publication of our magazine.

First published in 1991, Archaeology in Northumberland showcases the varied and exciting archaeological work happening in the county. Friends pay a small annual donation which helps with the running cost of the magazine.

If you’d like to become a member of the Friends, please view our membership form for details on how to apply, costs and how to pay. If you become a Friend you will receive:
  • the latest copy of the magazine
  • access to a series of guided walks based on the articles
  • a discount on conservation team publications
Sign up for annual membership:
  • online: here (look under miscellaneous for Friends membership)
  • phone: 01670 620305 to pay by debit or credit card
  • post: complete a membership form and enclose a cheque payable to Northumberland County Council
Existing Friends will be notified when it is time to renew their membership.