Analysis of archaeological remains visible to the naked eye, whether standing buildings, ruins or humps and bumps (earthworks), is probably the oldest of all archaeological techniques. It can be applied to sites of any period and of any size, and is accessible to non-experts, appealing to anyone with a keen eye and an inquisitive mind. As practiced today, 'archaeological field survey' combines these basic human abilities with hi-tech survey equipment and mapping techniques, but it remains a rapid and cost-effective way of understanding the historic environment.
Sophisticated detective work
Archaeological field survey is at its most effective when combined with the study of historic maps, documents, aerial photographs, the natural environment and other sources of evidence and naturally meshes well with other forms of archaeological survey, such as architectural investigation, aerial photography and geophysical prospection. It can help to target more focussed research such as excavation and, equally, can often help to put past excavations into context. In this way, archaeological field survey becomes a sophisticated form of detective work, sometimes called 'archaeological investigation'. Combining the identification and analysis of significant details with an overview of the big picture, archaeological field survey and investigation have the potential to unlock the specific influences and interactions that precisely shape every nuance of our landscape. English Heritage's 2007 guidance publication 'Understanding the archaeology of landscapes: a guide to good recording practice' enshrines this approach.
Strategic and tactical research
Within English Heritage's Research Department, the Archaeological Survey and Investigation Team undertakes, commissions and supports analytical surveys of archaeological sites and landscapes, investigating the full spectrum of England's historic environment, from prehistory to present day.
The team maintains a balanced portfolio of work, including both far-sighted, strategic research and timely, appropriate tactical responses to the immediate research and conservation needs of English Heritage and its many partners in the heritage sector.
Our strategic research, often national or regional in scope, seeks insights into the potential future impacts of major forces, including:
- global warming
- population growth
- the changing use of the countryside
Through addressing these major themes, we contribute to the body of evidence and understanding that must underpin English Heritage's own heritage protection programme. It also underpins conservation decisions on individual buildings, sites and landscapes by archaeological curators in local authorities.
Our national and regional projects usually lead to influential publications and conferences. As another important strand of our strategic work, we set standards, provide training, and offer advice and guidance, enabling others to carry out their own work more effectively.
In addition, we regularly undertake tactical surveys and investigations on a more localised scale, often on a 'one-off' basis, addressing a wide variety of research and conservation issues and examining an equally broad spectrum of individual sites, monuments and landscapes around the country.
We make sure that these investigations fit in with English Heritage's wider research agenda entitled 'Discovering the Past, Shaping the Future: Research Strategy 2005-2010'. But these projects also address specific, immediate questions or management problems, often in response to requests for assistance from our colleagues in other sections of English Heritage, or in other organisations.
For example, field surveys of sites and monuments held in English Heritage's own care have sometimes dramatically changed our perception of their purpose, importance or extent, allowing us to pass fresh, accurate information to visitors. The results of these individual pieces of research are initially published through English Heritage's in-house 'Research Department Report Series (British Library reference number: ISSN 1749-8775) and sometimes through additional academic journal articles and other publications.
How to contact us
If you want to:
- enquire about the potential for collaborative work
- obtain guidance, advice or support
- find out more about archaeological survey and investigation
you can contact the Head of Team, Pete Topping, either by post at English Heritage, 37 Tanner Row, York YO1 6WP or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org