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Excavation

Archaeological excavation is the controlled examination and often removal of the buried deposits and features (contexts) that make up archaeological sites and monuments.  Each context is carefully dug out and recorded along with the finds that it contains.  

From this evidence we can build up a picture of the site including how long people lived there, what kind of buildings they lived in and what their daily lives were like. On this page you can find out about out our excavation methods and approaches and some of our current projects.

Current projects

Recent excavations at English Heritage properties include work at Whitby Abbey where we discovered a small Anglo-Saxon chapel and investigation of the courtyard and motte at Clifford's Tower, York.  

We excavated Chester Roman Amphitheatre in collaboration with  Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Universities of Liverpool and Chester, and we are now preparing the results for publication.

Last year we excavated at three sites in West Wiltshire to test air photograph interpretations and geophysical survey results as part of the National Archaeological Identification Survey (NAIS ) lowland pilot  project.

At Paxcroft we found important evidence for early Iron Age settlement at an elaborate enclosure, as well as indications of early Roman settlement nearby.

As part of the NAIS Lakes and Dales Project we carried out test pitting of possible charcoal burning platforms at Barbon Park. At Kitridding we excavated two small trenches through a settlement identified by air photography and field survey to obtain samples for Optically Stimulated Luminesce (OSL) dating.

Two archaeologists recording layers of tumbled stone in a small excavation trench, with Kitridding Mere and hillside behind them
Planning and recording at Kitridding, Cumbria © Historic England

Approach

Historic England carries out interventions at a variety of scales, from watching briefs, test pits and evaluations to full excavation.

This work is often part of much larger projects that use a wide range of methods to explore the past.   Part of our role is to excavate and record sites which are at risk, from threats outside the planning process. For example, at Birdoswald the Roman fort cemetery was being lost due to cliff erosion.  

We plan our projects to:

  • Focus on defined research questions  
  • Gain the maximum information possible
  • Develop our methods
  • Take an multidisciplinary approach
  • Collaborate with appropriate partners

Methods

We manage our projects using the Management of Research Projects in the Historic Environment (MoRPHE) guidelines.

Our recording system combines established methods with digital recording.  We use the Swedish Intrasis system to record spatial and written data in the field, adapting the database structure to support our recording methods.  

Our sampling programmes are designed to meet our project objectives through analyses of plant and animal remains, technology and finds. We publish our results through articles in Research News, Research Reports, journals and monographs.  

We archive our project data and finds following national Archaeological Archiving guidance and international standards. Our aim is to produce an ordered, accessible digital archive, with the datasets to be available through the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and graphic material through the Historic England Archive.

The finds are archived either with local museums or with English Heritage's Collections Curators.

Four archaeologists excavating and recording features, with Silbury Hill in the background
Excavation of the Romano-British settlement in the fields south of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire © Historic England

Who we are

Michael Russell: Archaeological Project Team Manager, specialising in project planning, programme management and analysis of prehistoric pottery.

Vicky Crosby: Archaeologist, working on Iron Age and Romano-British rural settlements and interested in recording methods and stratigraphy

Nicola Hembrey: Archaeologist - Artefact Analysis; responsible for managing site finds assemblages, with a specialism in Roman small finds and an interest in object biographies. Currently managing the Chiswick House and Later Silbury projects.

Andrew Lowerre: Archaeologist - Spatial Analysis, interested in medieval archaeology, rural settlement and fortification, and archaeological uses of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial analysis.

Paddy O’Hara: Archaeologist, interested in fortifications and garden archaeology. Currently managing work at Clifford’s Tower, York.

David Roberts: Archaeologist, interested in Iron Age and Romano-British archaeology, human interaction with the landscape and archaeological theories of practice. Currently working on analysis of recent fieldwork at a range of sites in Wiltshire.

Tony Wilmott:, Senior Archaeologist, interested in the Roman and medieval periods. Currently working on the analysis of work at Chester Roman Amphitheatre and Whitby Abbey.

You can follow our work on the Historic England Archaeology Twitter account @HEArchaeology and search for our reports on the Research Reports Database.

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Contact

Andrew Lowerre

Archaeologist: Spatial Analysis

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Paddy O'Hara

Archaeologist

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Contact

David Roberts

Archaeologist

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Contact

Mike Russell

Archaeological Projects Manager

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Contact

Tony Wilmott

Senior Archaeologist

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

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Vicky Crosby
Vicky Crosby

Archaeologist

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

View on map

Contact

Nicola Hembrey

Archaeologist (Artefact Analysis)

Fort Cumberland,
Fort Cumberland Road,
Portsmouth,
Hampshire,
P04 9LD

View on map

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