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Historical archaeology

Apply for an approval for works or activities that may impact archaeological relics or check if your proposal meets criteria for an excavation permit exception.


The Heritage Act 1977 protects and conserves archaeological relics in New South Wales. We consider applications for impacts to archaeological relics.

A relic means any deposit, artefact, object or material evidence that:

  • relates to the settlement of the area that comprises New South Wales, not being Aboriginal settlement and
  • is of State local heritage significance.

The definition is of a relic is no longer based on age. Relics do not encompass all types of information that can be found under the ground.

See more information about the definition of a relic in Assessing significance for historical archaeological sites and relics.

Proposals to disturb or excavate land

If you are proposing works or an activity that will disturb or excavate land, where relics are suspected and the site is not a State Heritage Register listed item, there are 2 approval pathways you could take:

Prepare your application

Before you apply for an historical archaeology permit you need to prepare essential supporting documents to include with your application. Certain information is necessary so we can make decisions.

Your application must provide enough information for us to understand what you are proposing to do, and how any potential impacts to archaeological relics will be managed.

Please ensure:

  • you have all the information required (in digital format)
  • reports are the final version (not draft)
  • consultation is complete
  • reports, plans and consents are consistent
  • all documents submitted comply with the mandatory guidelines, codes of practice and Heritage NSW requirements.

Hard copies of documents are not required.

If you submit a complete application, we can more quickly assess it and make a determination.

What you need to do before you submit an application

Check if an exception applies

An exception from the requirement for an excavation permit can apply for disturbance or excavation of land, if it is for proposed minor works or activities that have minimal impact, archaeological testing or monitoring of relics of local heritage significance.

See excavation permit exception section 139(4) for more information.

Find an excavation director

Archaeological excavations must be undertaken and managed by suitably qualified and experienced people, known as excavation directors.

Follow the Criteria for assessing excavation directors to ensure a suitably qualified person is engaged before lodging your application for a heritage approval or excavation permit.

See our professional consultants directory for people to contact.

Do an archaeological assessment

Prepare an archaeological assessment to find out if the land may contain archaeological resources that could be or contain relics. The assessment needs to address:

  • the historical development of the land and modifications over time
  • the likelihood or potential for archaeological relics
  • the significance of those relics
  • what would be the impacts of your proposed activity or work
  • what options have been considered to avoid disturbance to retain the relics
  • management advice that is consistent with the significance of the archaeological relic/s.

Other information may also be available that indicates historical archaeological resources are likely. For example a local environmental plan, state environmental planning policy, State Heritage Register listing, archaeological management plan, archaeological zoning plan or the National Trust Register.

If the archaeological assessment identifies that an archaeological excavation program is appropriate to mitigate the loss of the archaeological resource and no other option is viable, an archaeological research design and excavation methodology will also be needed.

Refer to the Archaeological assessments guidelines for more information.

What you need to do after receiving an excavation permit

Complete works in accordance with the permit

Complete your works or activities according to the requirements of your excavation permit to ensure the relics are managed well and to avoid offences.

Prepare the final excavation report

Where an approval has been issued for disturbance of relics under the Heritage Act 1977 or any relevant planning consent in New South Wales, reporting of the results of the archaeological program is required.

Report content

The final report must be written by the excavation director/s who were approved to conduct the archaeological program, and it must include the following:

  1. executive summary of the archaeological program
  2. due credit to the client paying for the excavation
  3. accurate site location and site plan/s (with scale and north arrow) and including geo-referenced data; a clear plan showing the location of trenches etc excavated relative to known points/fixtures: for example, building or property boundary (plans must include levels reduced to the Australian Height Datum for all features shown on scaled plans)
  4. historical research, references, and bibliography
  5. detailed information on the excavation including the aim, the context for the excavation, procedures, treatment of artefacts (cleaning, conserving, sorting, cataloguing, labelling, scale photographs, drawings, location of repository) and analysis of the information retrieved
  6. nominated repository for the items
  7. detailed response to research questions (at minimum those stated in the approved research design)
  8. conclusions from the archaeological program including a reassessment of the site’s heritage significance: statement(s) on how archaeological investigations at this site have contributed to the community’s understanding of the relics identified, recommendations for the future management of the site and how much of the site remains undisturbed
  9. relevant comparative analysis to inform the significance of the site
  10. how information about this excavation has been made public: for example, details about open days, copies of press releases, brochures and information signs produced to explain the archaeological significance of the site.


These must include:

  • artefacts reports (by category where relevant) and artefact catalogue
  • context sheets and context register
  • photo log and images separated into parts: for example, photos 1–20, photos 21–40, etc.
  • plans and plan register (including Harris matrix)
  • survey data (if not included in plan data).


Images must:

  • satisfy requirements of archival recordings under the permit conditions
  • be in jpg format with each file size no larger than 1000 x 800 pixels.

Format of files

Report document – separate and label the individual parts or volumes to avoid exceeding file size limits.

Images – collate and submit them in a separate folder identified as an archival record (the images will not be accessioned into the online heritage library).

Lodge the final excavation report

If your excavation permit was approved via the Heritage Management System (HMS), lodge the final excavation report via the HMS. Otherwise please send the final report documents via email to: [email protected]

You can submit files that exceed email limits using Dropbox. Share the Dropbox link with [email protected]

Hard copies of documents are not required.

We recommend sharing a copy of the excavation report with a local library close to the project site.

Contact us

Heritage NSW

Phone: 02 9873 8500

Email: [email protected]