• Desk Based Assessments

    Identifying archaeological resources within a site

  • Identifying Impact

    Analysis of data to assess the impact on works

  • A thorough review of all relevant archaeological information
  • Since 1996

    Working with a wide range of clients, from property developers and private clients to national government and the National Trust

Desk Based Assessments


The principles and practice of 'desk studies' are well known to all Development and Construction professionals, having been an essential component of comprehensive site investigation for decades. Desk studies are a recommendation of BS5930 Code of Practice for Site Investigation and the AGS's Guidelines for Good Practice in Site Investigation. Many Development and Construction professionals use the largely automated 'Landmark Envirocheck' system for their desk studies for ground contamination etc. Though quick and comprehensive, it does not lend itself to archaeology, which requires a more analytical consideration of the data and its significance. Furthermore, the volume of archaeological work being undertaken in the UK means that databases and the deposit models derived from them become obsolete rapidly.

The principles are straightforward. The existence of archaeological deposits within a given site or building depends on the accretive interaction of three factors:

  • Geomorphology and soil conditions conducive to the survival of material cultural remains
  • human activity within the site likely to have created material cultural remains, and
  • benign post-depositional environments free of large scale disturbances, such as quarrying or wholesale demolition etc.
The data sources used in studying these factors are the same as those used for Construction-related desk studies, with the notable addition of local authority Sites and Monuments Records, which are invaluable. Assigning 'significance' to deposits likely to exist within a site requires a good understanding of the chronological, geographical and cultural themes affecting a sites archaeology.

Definitions of 'desk-based assessment' are offered by the two guidelines mentioned above and by the Institute for Archaeologists and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (formerly ACAO)  "..a programme of assessment of the known or potential archaeological resource within a specified area or site.....It consists of a collation of ...written, graphic, photographic and electronic information to identify the likely character, extent, quality and worth of the ...archaeological resource in a local, regional, national or international context. (IfA, 1999).  "...a thorough review of all existing archaeological information relating to an area potentially affected by proposals for development, stopping short of further data collection and synthesis through primary research including fieldwork." (ACAO, 1993)            

We believe both definitions need updating. A desk study should aim to either inform the design of site investigation works (evaluation), or demonstrate conclusively that such works are not needed.