Skip the NI Direct Bar
Department of the Environment logo
Northern Ireland Environment Agency logo
Home > NIEA > Built Home > Information > Archaeology

Protecting Historic Monuments & Buildings, Archaeological objects & wrecks

Last updated: 26 October 2010

A picture of an excavation at Custom House Square, Belfast.The modern landscape of Northern Ireland contains evidence of over 9000 years of human activity surviving as archaeological sites and monuments, archaeological objects and maritime remains around our coastline. These range from tombs, castles, churches and settlements to the more personal objects associated with people’s day to day lives in the past.

Historic Monuments have been protected by legislation since 1869. The current legislation is the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995Opens in New window. Monuments may also be protected by taking them into State Care or by scheduling them for protection.

We administer the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in Northern Ireland’s territorial waters, within 12 miles of shore, and have designated the wreck site of the Armada galleass Girona for protection under the Act. The Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 also applies within territorial waters.

Archaeological Objects

Archaeological objects discovered by members of the public, for instance, during fieldwork or excavating building foundations, must be reported to our Built Heritage Directorate, to the Ulster Museum, or to the Police, within 14 days of discovery and details provided of where and how the object was found. Object(s) may be held by us or the Ulster Museum for up to 3 months to permit proper examination and recording.

Different procedures exist for objects which are suspected to be treasure.

Archaeological excavation licence

A licence is required to search for archaeological objects or to carry out an archaeological excavation. All archaeological excavations must be carried out under the direction of a qualified archaeologist, licensed by us. Excavation may be undertaken for various reasons, for instance, for research purposes, as part of conservation repairs to a monument, or as a condition of planning approval.

A licence application must be submitted for every excavation, by the archaeologist who will direct the work, at least three weeks before the date on which work is due to begin.

Excavation licence application form (.PDF 528Kb)Opens in New window

Excavation good practice guide (.PDF 524Kb)Opens in New window

Archaeological excavation & survey in Northern Ireland

Some 200-300 licensed archaeological excavations are undertaken in Northern Ireland every year and can produce valuable new information about our past.

Picture of an excavation.We commission archaeological surveys and excavations as part of our role to protect, preserve and promote Northern Ireland’s archaeological heritage. The Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) was established in 2002 following a successful competitive tender to undertake the fieldwork requirements of NIEA Built Heritage. While the CAF have undertaken a number of select fieldwork and post excavation projects as a consultancy, the majority of its work remains that commissioned by NIEA Built Heritage.

To protect and promote archaeological remains along the coastline and on the seabed, we have established a Maritime Record and, in partnership with the University of Ulster at Coleraine, have set up a Centre for Maritime Archaeology to carry on survey of the coastal zone, foreshore and seabed and train future maritime archaeologists.