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Archaeological watching brief definition

The definition of an archaeological watching brief as defined by the Institute for Archaeologists is a formal programme of observation and investigation conducted during any operation carried out for non-archaeological reasons. This will be within a specified area or site on land, inter-tidal zone or underwater, where there is a possibility that archaeological deposits may be disturbed or destroyed. The programme will result in the preparation of a report and ordered archive.

The purpose of a watching brief is:

To allow, within the resources available, the preservation by record of archaeological deposits, the presence and nature of which could not be established (or established with sufficient accuracy) in advance of development or other potentially disruptive works.

To provide, if needed, for the watching archaeologist to signal to all interested parties, before the destruction of the material in question, that an archaeological find has been made for which the resources allocated to the watching brief itself are not sufficient to support treatment to a satisfactory and proper standard.

A watching brief is not intended to reduce the requirements for excavation or preservation of known or inferred deposits, and it is intended to guide, not replace, any requirement for contingent excavation or preservation of possible deposits.

The objective of a watching brief is to establish and make available information about the archaeological resource existing on the site.




The Institute for Archaeologists note a watching brief may arise:

In response to a development which threatens the archaeological resource

As part of the planning process (within the framework of appropriate national planning policy guidance notes) and/or development plan policy

As part of an Environmental Assessment (EA)

Outside the planning process (eg ecclesiastical development, coastal erosion, agriculture, forestry and countryside management, works by public utilities and statutory undertakers)

A watching brief may therefore be instigated or commissioned by a number of different individuals or organisations, including local planning authorities, national advisory bodies, government agencies, private landowners, developers or their agents.


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JMHS carries out watching briefs for developments of all types and sizes: from conservatory extensions through to major pipelines, roads and other regional scale projects.