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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

13 - Changes in Policy for Excavating Human Remains in England and Wales



This chapter examines the legal and procedural aspects concerning the archaeological excavation of human remains in England and Wales (the situation in Scotland is covered by different legislation; see Chapter 6). There is a wide variety of legislation and codes of practice, which bear directly or indirectly upon the archaeological recovery of such remains and their subsequent analysis and curation. Since 2008, the situation has proved problematic because of a reinterpretation of the burial laws that affect archaeology (see Sayer 2010). Changes in advice and consultation by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have attempted to resolve these problems, but requests to draw up new legislation have been declined.

Archaeology in the UK has often had a ‘softly softly’ relationship with legislators. In the 1980s and 1990s, the profession was emerging and finding its place within society. As part of this process, funding for ‘rescue’ or ‘salvage’ archaeology moved from local and central government to developers. Things are different now. Commercial archaeologists have successfully operated within the construction industry for two decades, contributing significantly to the number of recorded sites. While the public may not get their hands dirty on rescue excavations as they did in the 1970s and 1980s, far more of them consume their heritage as recreation through magazines and websites, popular TV programming, museum visits, organised public archaeology events and excavation open days. Some estimates suggest that the heritage industry, including its tourism element, is worth up to £1bn to the British economy.