Desk-based assessments and field evaluation

Trial investigation in advance of the replacement of the 17th century steps at St Paul's Cathedral

Download the assessment team capability statement (PDF 580kb)

Thirty years of archaeological experience have gone into the creation of Museum of London Archaeology's unique predictive database, which allows rapid provision of site specific advice to clients and Local Planning Authorities through desk-based archaeological assessments.

Assessment is normally the first formal step in the process of archaeological risk management for the planning process. It can be required by Local Planning Authorities implementing government policy as expressed in the Planning Policy Guidance notes on archaeology and historic buildings.

MOLA assessments contain essential information on a site’s historic and archaeological background, a summary of archaeological survival, and consideration of the impact of the proposed development.

MOLA has produced over 4,000 desk-based assessments for sites throughout Britain. MOLA produces or contributes to Environmental Statements for those projects defined as requiring environmental impact assessment (EIA) under European Community Directives.

Where significant archaeological remains might be affected by development, Local Authorities may ask for desk-based assessment to be augmented by evaluation work in the field. Evaluation enables Local Authorities to determine planning permission but sometimes may not be possible before planning consent is granted and, in these cases, MOLA can arrange an evaluation programme to meet the requirements of a staged planning condition.

MOLA carries out around 100 field evaluations each year, using a variety of field evaluation techniques, according to site type and conditions as follows:

Auger and borehole surveys

Auger and borehole surveys recover evidence of past landscapes, especially on estuarine, floodplain and marshy land where conventional archaeological excavation may not be as effective. Geoarchaeological techniques can establish the location and nature of buried sediments, providing evidence for climate and ecological change, and allowing the more widespread prediction of archaeological survival. The techniques are particularly useful where archaeology is deeply buried, wet or peaty, or contaminated.

Augering can reduce the number of manually excavated evaluation trenches needed and has considerably less archaeological impact than conventional excavation. The MOLA geoarchaeology team works closely with environmental archaeologists in Specialist Services.

Contour and geophysical surveys

Contour and geophysical surveys can be used independently or in combination to prospect for and identify archaeological features over large areas.

Testpits and trial trenches

Testpits and trial trenches are designed to establish the nature and extent of archaeological remains on a given site. The process is a predictive tool, with the configuration of trenches intended to yield maximum information from minimum intervention. MOLA is often able to carry out trial work in parallel with the client’s own geotechnical investigations, reducing overall costs, particularly on urban sites.

See our desk-based assessment section