Archaeology

Find out about archaeology in Northumberland & how we work to look after the special qualities of Northumberland's historic environment.

In order to conserve and enhance Northumberland’s historic environment, we offer specialist advice to planners and developers, encourage good management of archaeological and historic monuments, manage and provide information sources, carry out research projects, and promote the historic environment through our publications.

The 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.

The government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the protection given to heritage through the planning process (development management).

You can view the policy on the NPPF website here.

The historic environment is addressed in chapter 12.

It is always best to consider any archaeological implications a development could have as soon as possible. If there are any problems, and this is realised at an early stage, it means there is often still flexibility in design and layout.

We welcome pre-application enquiries and can advise on:

  • the best course of action
  • how to satisfy archaeological conditions
  • how archaeological work can be carried out

No matter how small or large your development is, we would be happy to discuss your proposal with you.

How to get advice

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.

The ‘Planning for the future’ guide (and accompanying digital mapping) is aimed at large scale landscape and aggregate developments. The guide is free and will assist in compiling environmental impact assessments. Please contact us to request a copy.

When you submit a planning application to the council, we will assess the impact the proposed development may have on archaeology.

We will then provide one of the following recommendations:

  • no objection
  • request more information or archaeological work
  • refusal

What happens if I need to provide more information?

If we ask you for more information to assess the archaeological impact of a planning application, 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?

We can provide details of professional archaeologists who work in Northumberland, or you can look in the Institute for Archaeologists Directory, or search the internet and Yellow Pages.

To request details from us please contact us by:

Our list indicates those consultants prepared to work in the Northumberland area. 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.

Where remains of national importance are affected, the application may be refused.

Sometimes it is possible to accommodate archaeology in the design of the development, for example, through site layout or foundation design.

Alternatively we may recommend that a condition is put on your planning permission.

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.

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.

View our charging policy here.

Historic Environment Record

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

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.

The HER was originally developed as a planning tool to identify archaeological or historic remains likely to be affected by development.

It is now also used as 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.

You can get information from the HER in the following ways:

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 access and charging policy.

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.

You are welcome to phone or email if you would like some general advice on your enquiry using the contact details provided above.

Projects

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

Archaeological excavations in Berwick have shown that 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 English Heritage 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).

View a copy of the project report here.

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, English Heritage and others to care for our towns and cities in the future and to ensure that archaeological information is available early in the development process.

The survey reports have been complied 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 English Heritage website.

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.

View the companion booklet here or email us to request a free copy.

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 that 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 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. Contractors should consult the HER.

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 that they discover.

A CD-ROM version is also available by contacting us by:

There is increasing pressure to accommodate major wind farm developments throughout the UK. Wind turbines and wind farm developments can require significant ancillary works and without careful consideration of the location, scale and layout of proposals, this work has the potential to impact the fabric and setting of historic assets.

Wind Farms and the Historic Environment Conference 2010

A conference organised by the council in 2010 explored how the objectives of renewable energy policy and the sensitivity of the historic environment can be balanced in the planning process without compromising either interest.

The conference included contributions from:

  • national and local government representatives
  • heritage advisors
  • representatives of the renewable energy industry
  • cultural heritage professionals
  • barristers specialising in renewable energy casework
  • other professionals working in the sector

Downloads

Presentations from the conference can be downloaded here:

SESSION 1: Policy background and application

SESSION 2: National and regional curatorial advice and guidance

SESSION 3: The setting of heritage assets

SESSION 4: Examples in practice - project development, assessment, mitigation inquiry

The North East Regional Research Framework for the Historic Environment (NERRF) is one of a series of regional research frameworks promoted by English Heritage 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:

Updating the research framework

The NERRF is now undergoing a revision and update. This is being coordinated by staff from English Heritage's North East Team and will take the form of on-line amendments to the original document. It is not envisaged that a further hard copy report will be produced.

Any queries or questions relating to the proposed revision should be directed to English Heritage (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:

We publish the magazine Archaeology in Northumberland and a range of other archaeology books:

All publications are available to order 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

Magazines- Archaeology in Northumberland

Click here now to view our Archaeology magazine

Past editions- all free of charge

  • Issue 19 (2010): includes a feature on the preparations for the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden.
  • Issue 18 (2008): includes village atlases, fishing heritage, Shotton and Delhi opencast sites and Coquetdale Community Archaeology.
  • Issue 17 (2007): includes medieval halls at Cornhill and Berwick, Saxon buildings at Lanton Quarry, Gilderdale shielings, and the excavation of a Mustang aircraft.
  • Issue 16 (2006): includes the excavation of a major Iron Age site at North Road, Berwick, and a Wellington aircraft crash site.
  • Issue 15(2005): includes Chillingham Cattle conservation project, Blyth Battery, a spotlight on Corbridge, and excavations at Alnwick Castle Gardens.
  • Issue 14(2004): includes the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the National Park Village Atlas and the launch of Keys to the Past website.

Other publications:

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

First published in 1991, the magazine showcases the varied and exciting archaeological work happening in Northumberland today.

Friends pay a small annual donation which helps with the running cost of the magazine.

Become a Friend!

Become a Friend of Archaeology in Northumberland and in return 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

How to join

If you’d like to become a member of the Friends, please view our membership form which has details of how to apply, as well as costs and how to pay.

You can sign up and pay to become a member:

  • 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

The membership is annual.

Existing friends will be notified when it is time to renew their membership.