Culture and heritage


Policy, standards and guidelines

The Heritage Branch works to develop effective standards and guidelines for historical archaeology with the help of trained specialists working in the field. Our aim is to improve the quality and accessibility of archaeological work in NSW and to encourage education and interpretation of archaeological sites. Two major historical archaeology Reviews were undertaken in 1999 and also from 2004-2006 by the former NSW Heritage Office.

The Heritage Branch has used the findings from the reports to consider the allocation of resources and priorities for archaeological projects within the Branch. Findings from the Reviews have informed changes to permit conditions; data management within the Branch for historical archaeology; increased public outreach; and the ongoing revision of older publications and other initiatives.


The following publications can be downloaded or ordered from the Heritage Branch:

NOTE: The 'relics' provisions of the Heritage Act have been amended in 2009. When using earlier documents it is prudent to check the current legal defintions and requirements arising from amendments to the Act.

New guidelines

Stabilising stuff: a guide for conserving archaeological finds in the field

Stabilising Stuff: A Guide for Conserving Archaeological Finds in the Field is an initiative of the Archaeology Advisory Panel to the Heritage Council of NSW. International Conservation Services Pty Ltd donated considerable staff time to assist in the project.

This guide will be helpful during large-scale archaeological excavations (‘digs’) to ensure that sensitive materials are appropriately managed in the field, and will help archaeologists fulfil their responsibilities towards the conservation of archaeological remains under the NSW Heritage Act 1977. It focuses on first-aid conservation as a critical step in the preservation of artefacts and in situ remains. The guide provides information essential for a comprehensive understanding of the role of conservation within an archaeological project, but individual sections can be also used as a quick reference to help solve difficult or unforeseen situations in the field.

For the purposes of this guide, archaeological remains include all items defined as ‘environmental heritage’ in the NSW Heritage Act 1977, i.e. those places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects and precincts of State or local heritage significance. Archaeological remains include in situ remains and artefacts recovered from archaeological sites.

Download Stabilising Stuff: A Guide for Conserving Archaeological Finds in the Field (StabilisingStuff.pdf, 1.3MB).

Archaeological management plans

Archaeological Management Plans (AMPs) identify areas of European occupation where high concentrations of potential archaeological remains are expected to be present. AMPs contain management recommendations and policies for the archaeological resource and identify the procedures to be followed. This can avoid delays to development through unanticipated finds, additional costs, expanded project scope, physical restrictions, redesign and other issues which may result from inadequate planning, poor risk management and lack of knowledge about archaeological requirements. The guidelines explain an appropriate scope of works, timeframe and the support requirements needed for a useful and viable AMP.

Download Archaeological Management Plans. (AMPguideline.pdf, 4.2MB)

Assessing significance for archaeological sites and 'relics'

Amendments to the Heritage Act made in 2009 have changed the definition of an archaeological 'relic' under the Act. A relic is now an archaeological deposit, resource or feature that has heritage significance at a local or State level. The definition is no longer based on age. This significance based approach to identifying 'relics' is consistent with the way other heritage items such as buildings, works, precincts or landscapes are identified and managed in NSW.

This guideline gives advice about how to assess the heritage significance of known and potential archaeological resources, features or deposits and determine whether they are 'relics' as defined by the Act. The key issue is whether a deposit, artefact, object or material evidence that survives from the past is significant. If it is significant, it will need to be managed under the 'relics' provisions of the Heritage Act.

Download Archaeological significance. (Archsignificance.pdf, 184KB)

Previous studies

Interpreting Archaeology: The Home of Archaeology lies in the Heart of Modern Communities 2002
In 2002 former Heritage Branch archaeologist, Natalie Vinton, was awarded a $6,000 Travelling Fellowship in Public Sector Management. Her project took her to the US to undertake a study of international best practice in the interpretation of archaeological resources. You can download her report on public access to archaeology in the US:

Ruins: working policy statement

A ruin is the fabric of a constructed and usually immovable structure, mostly above the ground which is in a transitional state between dereliction and an archaeological site . Ruins may have cultural significance through possession of inspirational, evocative, aesthetic and research values as well as an ability to demonstrate those values. In many cases, when an item's state as a ruin is a primary element of its significance, management through preservation will be justified, rather than partial or full reconstruction, and processes of controlled and recorded decay may be acceptable.

This working policy statement was adopted by Heritage Council's State Heritage Register Committee on the 7th March 2007. It will be trialed and reviewed in due course.

Making an application

You will need to make an application to the Heritage Council if you are going to disturb or excavate any land in NSW that is likely to contain archaeological remains. Download the appropriate forms from Permits and applications.

Selecting an excavation director

Excavation directors and excavation co-directors need to have pertinent qualifications, professional fieldwork experience, and have a good reason to undertake the proposed archaeological work that may impact on sub-surface relics. The Heritage Council has endorsed criteria to help the community and consent authorities assess the suitability of a nominated excavation director for different types of archaeological projects.

In 2011 The Heritage Council ENDORSED an updated version of the Criteria for Selecting an Excavation Director. Minor amendments have been made to refine the existing document; to provide clearer definitions/terminology and to remove ambiguities which became evident from documentation submitted in response to the prior Criteria (2004 version) in past years. These changes have been made to make the Criteria easier to use and apply for both archaeologists and those who employ archaeologists. Specific changes are:

  • an explanatory page at the beginning which outlines the context in which the Criteria operate, including headings such as Purpose, Qualifications, Mentoring, Benefits.
  • a page providing specific definitions for particular roles which may be enacted under an issued archaeology permit. Terms covered include Primary and Secondary Excavation Director.

Excavation Directors Assessment Criteria (excavationsdirectors.pdf, 47KB)

Before nominating an excavation director on a section 60 and/or section 140 application form, download the Assessment Criteria and ensure that they meet the criteria. It is particularly important for first-time nominated excavation directors and excavation co-directors to meet these criteria. You will need to provide:

  • a written statement demonstrating how your fieldwork experience meets the stated criteria;
  • a written statement of relevant professional experience prepared by at least two referees who have supervised your fieldwork, (the referees must come from at least 2 different employers), verifying the nominated excavation director's professional fieldwork experience; and
  • a copy of your current curriculum vitae (CV).

The documents should be submitted with the excavation permit application form.

Page last updated: 21 May 2013