Protecting archaeological heritage

How is our archaeological heritage protected?

The NSW Heritage Act 1977 protects the State's natural and cultural heritage and contains measures to protect archaeological resources.

If you are excavating land in NSW and know that you will disturb a relic, or think that you might disturb a relic, then you need to get an excavation permit issued by the Heritage Council of NSW.

An excavation permit is required in order to ensure that archaeological sites are excavated under proper supervision and that significant evidence of our past is not unnecessarily lost. Archaeology requires the careful excavation of evidence in the ground in order to fully understand the history and significance of the site.

The Heritage Act also requires that a person who has discovered a relic must notify the Heritage Council of the discovery within a reasonable time.

For more information:

  • read the relevant section in the NSW Heritage Act 1977, sections 139-146 (archlegislation.pdf, 11KB);
  • view the Heritage Act in full via the website of the Australasian Legal Information Institute

Many archaeological sites are listed on the State Heritage Register in recognition of their significance. Search the State Heritage Register.

There are also a number of other ways to protect archaeological sites. Archaeological Zoning Plans (AZP) or or Archaeological Management Plans (AMP)are an important tool for identifying areas of archaeological potential that could be affected by development. Promoting public awareness, conducting public education programs and providing easy access to professional advice on the conservation of archaeological sites also play a vital role.


The heritage of NSW is irreplaceable. There are heavy penalties for offences under the Heritage Act. Penalties may include fines, confiscation of equipment, even imprisonment.

What can you do?

Volunteers and enthusiasts can make a valuable contribution to archaeological research and site conservation. You can help by:

  • immediately reporting to the Heritage Council the discovery of relics unintentionally uncovered without an excavation permit;
  • nominating sites for inclusion on local councils' LEPs or the State Heritage Register;
  • lobbying through local heritage groups to ensure that the value and knowledge of sites is recognized before there are imminent threats;
  • volunteering to assist with archaeological excavation;
  • joining your local historical society;
  • nominating sites for inclusion on local councils' LEPs or the State Heritage Register;
  • Find out more about nominating a site.
Page last updated: 01 September 2012