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You need a licence to carry out archaeological excavation or search for archaeological objects in Northern Ireland.

Excavations may be carried out for a number of reasons including:

  • research purposes
  • carrying out conservation repairs to a monument
  • rescuing archaeological objects prior to land development
  • undertaking archaeological assessments as part of a planning proposal

How to apply

Download an application form from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) website.

You should only make the application if you are the archaeologist who will direct the fieldwork.

Before making the application you should obtain the land owner’s consent to carry out excavation works, and outline the proposed works to them or to the occupier if different. This should include details of any foreseeable delays, disruptions or inconvenience.

As archaeological objects belong to the owner of the land on which they’re found (except in the case of treasure) you should also secure their agreement to transfer ownership of all excavated material to the care of a recognised curatorial institution. NIEA can provide a letter for this purpose.

You will need to provide information in your application about the:

  • type and scale of the project
  • reason for excavation
  • excavation methods
  • type of site
  • site owner and/or occupier
  • resources for storage and conservation of excavated material
  • types of post-excavation work that might be required
  • source of funding and insurance cover

You should also indicate if geophysical survey or metal-detecting equipment are to be used.

You may need to provide evidence of your fitness to direct the proposed project or, if this is your first application, a demonstration of competence.

If you are planning to excavate on a scheduled monument site, you will need to enclose the scheduled monument consent with your application. Consent is not normally granted for excavation of a scheduled site unless there are specific research reasons for the excavation.

You must submit your application at least 2 weeks before the date on which work is due to begin.

You must submit a new application for every excavation.


You don’t need to pay an application fee.


You must follow any conditions on your licence, eg in relation to drawing up and following satisfactory health and safety procedures and the submission of a summary report of your findings to NIEA within 4 weeks of the end of the excavation.

If you find an archaeological object during the excavation you must report this to NIEA or the Ulster Museum within 14 days of discovery, including details of where and how the object was found. It may then be held by the relevant body for up to 3 months for detailed examination and recording.

Finds of human remains must be reported to the police.

The discovery of possible treasure must be reported to NIEA in case it proves necessary to hold a treasure inquest.

Fines and penalties

You may be fined up to £1,000 if you carry out an archaeological excavation or search for archaeological objects without a licence, fail to comply with licence conditions, or fail to report a finding.