Archaeological excavation is the controlled examination of the buried deposits and features that make up archaeological sites and monuments. These are carefully dug and recorded along with the finds they contain, to build up a picture of a site and its people. Archaeology can help us to understand past society and how it influences us today.
Archaeological Excavation Team
Archaeological Excavation is a team of expert archaeologists who undertake nationally significant research aligned with Historic England priorities, to protect, champion and preserve our heritage.
Our team includes wide-ranging expertise, and has a close working relationship with an unparalleled network of multi disciplinary specialists. Together, we carry out archaeological intervention and analysis, and contribute to the understanding, preservation and enjoyment of our historic environment and cultural heritage.
We share our extensive archaeological experience through advice, training, lectures, public engagement, and publications aimed at reaching the widest audiences.
We develop and lead archaeological excavations, to improve understanding, protection, and presentation of sites and landscapes.
These investigations inform research, such as at English Heritage properties Chester Roman Amphitheatre, which we excavated in collaboration with Cheshire West and Chester Council and the Universities of Liverpool and Chester, and Whitby Abbey, where we discovered a small early medieval chapel.
We’re working on the material from excavations of the extensive Iron Age and Romano-British settlement at Stanwick (Northamptonshire), to present the results and create a valuable research archive.
We also carry out excavations to inform advice and protection, such as at Low Ham, Somerset, where we excavated the Roman villa landscape, and developed our training provision.
We make emergency responses to preserve by record sites at risk from threats outside the planning process, such as threats from erosion processes, as at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall. We took part in the National Archaeological Identification Survey (NAIS) lowland and upland pilot projects, excavating sites to test air photograph interpretations and geophysical survey results.
Our excavation and sampling programmes are tailored to meet our project objectives, through targeted excavation and analyses of material culture, technology and plant and animal remains. Specialists from many disciplines are involved from the planning stage, and are present during fieldwork to enable early and detailed understanding of a place and the people who spent time there.
Innovative recording and archiving
We made an early investment in digital recording; using databases during the late 1970s onwards, and developing the Delilah database for on-site recording in the late 1980s.
In the early 1990s we introduced site planning directly into CAD from the survey instruments (using TheoLT), and 3D modelling of excavated features.
Having adopted the Intrasis database and GIS system in 2009, we have developed an innovative template for digital excavation recording to enhance the capabilities and efficiency of our established archaeological recording methods.
This approach allows us to create a comprehensive database of spatial data, photographs and interpretation of archaeology, environment and material culture whilst still trench-side, and to use it throughout the project’s lifecycle. We are collaborating on guidance for digital site recording and archive creation, and our Excavation Recording Manual is freely available.
We archive our project data and finds following national Archaeological Archiving guidance and international standards, with datasets available through the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the Historic England Archive. Finds are archived with local museums or with English Heritage's Collections Curators.
Working with our partners
We use our expertise to provide advice and quality assurance to projects commissioned by Historic England, including research into the effectiveness of archaeological techniques and methodologies to support the sector, such as this case study on the effectiveness of trial trenching and evaluation methods in the planning process.
We are proud to work in close collaboration with other Historic England teams, the English Heritage Trust, academic and commercial partners, and local groups and communities.
We are committed to sharing our skills with the sector, and are currently developing Historic England Archaeological Training programme (HEAT), through the implementation of field schools and training modules for apprenticeships.
Who we are
Archaeological Excavation Principal
Nicola leads the Archaeological Excavation Team, delivering practical excavation on key sites, along with providing strategic direction for the team’s roles in sector strategy, leadership and innovation, and contributing to the management and operation of Archaeological Investigation. She is also an expert in the study of material culture, with a specialism in Roman small finds, and a research interest in contemporary engagement with objects. Having led field and finds projects, key works include Later Silbury and Low Ham Roman Villa, and developing Historic England’s Archaeological Training Programme. Nicola is committed to collaborative working, and to making archaeology accessible. She is an advocate for inclusion, diversity and equity in archaeology.
You can read some of Nicola’s work on her Academia profile. Nicola is an accredited Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
Contact Nicola Hembrey
Senior Archaeologist – Excavation Co-ordinator
Tony is an experienced field archaeologist whose role is in planning and leading programmes of excavation, research, and post excavation. His specialisms are the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall and Roman frontiers, the Roman military, the archaeology of the Roman amphitheatre, and the late Roman/early medieval transition. He has published widely on these subjects, notably monographs on Birdoswald, many excavations on Hadrian’s Wall, and the amphitheatre at Chester. Recent key works include the Roman site of Richborough, the cemetery of Birdoswald, and Whitby Abbey. Tony was previously voted Current Archaeology magazine's Archaeologist of the Year.
You can read some of Tony’s work on his Academia profile. Tony is an accredited Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
Contact Tony Wilmott
Senior Archaeologist - Rescue Strategy
Vicky is an experienced archaeologist whose main research interest is later prehistoric and Romano-British rural economies, especially integrating a wide range of evidence to build our understanding. She leads the post-excavation research on the large and complex Iron Age and Romano-British rural settlement at Stanwick, Northamptonshire (Raunds Iron Age & Romano-British project). Other work includes investigating the Romano-British period around Silbury Hill, and excavation as part of the ‘Lakes and Dales’ National Archaeological Identification Survey Upland Pilot. Vicky’s expertise in digital recording and site survey has contributed to most of the team’s recent fieldwork projects. Her strategic role focusses on support for archaeology discovered outside planning process, threatened by imminent loss or destruction, or whose results remain inaccessible to the public.
Contact Vicky Crosby
Senior Archaeologist – Digital Strategy
A professional field archaeologist for four decades, Tom conducts research and leads excavations on a number of important sites, including Dover Castle, Windsor Castle, and Apethorpe Hall. Initially trained in post-Roman settlement and the rise of monasticism, he has developed in-depth knowledge of post-medieval gardens through work in the HLF’s Urban Parks programme and later through excavations at Marble Hill. Having provided expertise in metric survey and CAD skills for the team, Tom is heavily involved in the development of digital recording techniques for excavations. His publications include the excavation chapter of the recent Dover Great Tower book, the Silkstone Glassworks article in Post-Med Archaeology, and numerous EH/HE Research Reports.
Contact Tom Cromwell
Senior Archaeologist– Collaboration and Capacity-Building Strategy
Ian has experience across the archaeological profession, having directed and managed archaeological fieldwork in the commercial sector, managed archaeological landscapes under military training with the Ministry of Defence, and led on the protection and sharing of archaeology for the National Trust. Ian has a background in excavation of sites from all periods as well as programme management, and has maintained an interest in later prehistoric archaeology, in particular Iron Age non-ferrous metalwork. He is published in all these areas, as well as in metalworking technology and the application of Remote Sensing in archaeology. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and a Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Contact Ian Barnes
Archaeologist – Finds Specialist
Rachel is a small finds specialist with particular expertise in artefacts of the Medieval and Post-Medieval periods. Her extensive experience of the post excavation process has been developed through many years of working within commercial archaeology. She has dealt with finds at every stage of the process from field to archive, as well as having undertaken curatorial work. Rachel is enthusiastic about the dissemination of archaeological research to a diverse audience. In addition to publishing and speaking about her own research, she has played a key role in managing and contributing to other publication projects. You can read some of Rachel’s work on her Academia profile. Rachel is a member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists at Associate level.
Contact Rachel Cubitt
Logistics and Technical Support Officer
James provides logistical support to archaeological excavations taking place at sites across the country, and technical support for Fort Cumberland laboratories. He looks after our specialist equipment and stores, and carries out maintenance and routine care of collections. James also supports public engagement events at Fort Cumberland and other venues.
Contact James Pearce
Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Student
Lucy is the Archaeological Projects team’s current Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student, with Bournemouth University. She is researching the effectiveness of geophysical survey within archaeological investigation. She is reviewing geophysical data and interpretation against excavation results to create meaningful evidence to support Heritage professionals who commission and use geophysical survey, aiming to create guidance. You can read some of Lucy’s work on her Academia profile. Lucy is an accredited Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.