Northern Ireland's archaeology ranges from sites and monuments to maritime remains. The Department’s Historic Environment Division works in conjunction with external bodies in order to excavate, survey, catalogue, protect and conserve our archaeology.

Archaeologists aim to understand past societies and cultures by studying the material evidence they left behind. The modern landscape of Northern Ireland contains evidence of over 9,000 years of human activity surviving as archaeological sites and monuments, archaeological objects and maritime remains around our coastline. These range from tombs, castles, churches and settlements to the more personal objects associated with people's daily lives in the past.

Archaeological survey and excavation are two of the main tools employed by archaeologists to discover and record this diverse and often fragile evidence. All the information recorded during an archaeological excavation or survey is submitted to the Sites and Monuments Record, to improve our knowledge base, be made publicly accessible and contribute towards future research.

Archaeological Excavation and Survey in Northern Ireland

Archaeological excavations may be undertaken for various reasons, including for research purposes, as part of conservation repairs to a monument, or in advance of development as a condition of planning approval.

Archaeological excavation involves meticulous recording of archaeological objects and remains, but unfortunately through this process archaeological features and layers are destroyed. Archaeological excavations are therefore only carried out as a last resort and it is essential that they are of a high standard and undertaken by suitably qualified personnel.

An archaeological excavation licence is required for all archaeological excavations in NI, or to search for archaeological objects. The Department is the licensing authority in Northern Ireland, currently issuing up to 300 excavation licenses each year.

Our staff undertake archaeological fieldwork as well as commissioning archaeological surveys and excavations as part of our role to protect, preserve and promote Northern Ireland's archaeological heritage.

Archaeological Excavation Licence

A licence is required to search for archaeological objects or to carry out an archaeological excavation and all archaeological excavations must be carried out under the direction of a qualified archaeologist, licensed by the Department for Communities. 

A licence application must be submitted for every excavation, by the archaeologist who will direct the work, at least four weeks before the date on which work is due to begin.

Back to top