Protecting Northern Irelands Archaeology

The modern landscape of Northern Ireland contains evidence of over 9000 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 day to day lives in the past.

Protecting our archaeology

Historic Monuments have been protected by legislation since 1869. The current legislation is the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995. Monuments may also be protected by taking them into State Care or by scheduling them for protection.

We administer the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in Northern Ireland’s territorial waters, within 12 miles of shore, and have designated the wreck site of the Armada galleass Girona for protection under the Act. The Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 also applies within territorial waters.

Archaeological objects

Archaeological objects discovered by members of the public, for instance, during fieldwork or excavating building foundations, must be reported to our Historic Environment Division, to the Ulster Museum, or to the Police, within 14 days of discovery and details provided of where and how the object was found. Object(s) may be held by us or the Ulster Museum for up to three months to permit proper examination and recording.

Different procedures exist for objects which are suspected to be treasure.

Archaeological excavation and survey in Northern Ireland

Some 200-300 licensed archaeological excavations are undertaken in Northern Ireland every year and can produce valuable new information about our past.

Historic Environment Division also commission archaeological surveys and excavations 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. All archaeological excavations must be carried out under the direction of a qualified archaeologist, licensed by us. 

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.

Structure and contacts

View the Historic Environment Division structure and contacts

Back to top