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‘Diocese’ refers to the geographical territory in which a bishop exercises oversight. The Church in Wales is divided into six dioceses each with its own cathedral in which is housed the cathedra (the bishop’s ‘chair’ or ‘throne’).

Home For clergy and members Church buildings DAC and Faculties DAC & Church in Wales Guidance Notes DAC ARCHAEOLOGY GUIDANCE


1.Getting Archaeological Information

From the DAC.

If you are undertaking a project which requires a Faculty and is likely to disturb the ground in a church or churchyard which is more than about 150 years old (and remember that a ‘new’ church may be in an old churchyard) then it is likely that you may require an archaeological presence when you undertake the work. The DAC can advise you on the degree of archaeological work which it is likely that you will require as a condition of Faculty, bearing in mind that the ultimate decision in these matters rests with the Diocesan Chancellor, not the DAC. It is, however, the parish who will need to find a suitable archaeologist to undertake the work.

Finding an archaeologist.

There are a large number of archaeological contractors available to you. When choosing one you need to bear a number of things in mind. Archaeological contractors vary from very large organisations (mainly based outside Wales) capable of running excavations on major infrastructure projects like Crossrail or Heathrow Terminal 5 to the small local contractors employing just one or two people. For most Faculty-related archaeology you do not need the facilities (and accompanying costs for specialists, admin overheads and transport) which a large unit has to cost into its charges. So you will probably find a smaller or medium sized concern more cost effective – but you need to make sure that they have some experience in working in churches and churchyards and can meet any conditions laid down by the Faculty. Web sites listing archaeological contractors are shown below.

Further information

If your project involves planning permission from the Local Authority, then you may find it useful to look at the brief Guide to Archaeology and Planning to be found on the website of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (www.ggat.org.uk – navigate to the Archaeological Planning page). GGAT Planning section provides advice to Local Authorities so, if relevant, your planning application will pass across their desks.

The GGAT site also contains a link to the list of archaeological contractors maintained by the Institute of Archaeologists – www.archaeologists.net and click on ‘find an organisation’. These are mainly the medium to large organisations. Other lists of contractors include: http://www.bajr.org/whosewho/contractor.asp also accessible via a link from the Council for British Archaeology website (www.newarchaeologyuk.org/discover - navigate to online archaeology resources then external links) . You will need to look at the individual websites of any of those you choose to find out their specialities and other details.

2. Will a watching brief be needed?

If you are undertaking a project which requires a Faculty and is likely to disturb the ground in a church or churchyard, then it is possible that you may require an archaeological presence when you undertake below-ground work. Here are a few questions which it may be useful to ask concerning the project and the site.

Is the church or the churchyard more than about 150 years old?

If so then the DAC is likely to recommend that an archaeologist is present during all below-ground disturbance. Remember that a ‘new’ church may be in an old churchyard.

Is the church on the site of, or near, known archaeological remains?

It may be that earlier work on the site has turned up archaeological remains or that the church is within, or adjacent to, a known site. If so, then an archaeological presence is likely to be needed.

Is the work required likely to penetrate archaeological levels?

This is more difficult to answer as the depth at which archaeological features appear varies considerably from site to site. However, it is reasonable to assume that the top 20-30cms (8-12 inches) are unlikely to contain surviving significant archaeological remains. Recent work (eg, the raising of a floor level) may increase the archaeologically sterile layer but the DAC will need information confirming this.

Do you need advice?

There is a separate DAC information sheet (Getting archaeological information) which includes a section on how to find a suitable professional archaeologist for watching briefs or excavation. However, if you need advice on what is likely to be required, this can probably be provided by the DAC through its Care of Churches Officer or its Archaeological advisor.

3. Drains, soakaways, paths and other work in churches and churchyards. Background information

  • It is stating the obvious that most churchyards and most older churches are burial grounds. There does, however, seem to be a general belief that all burials will be, or will have been, marked by a gravestone. However, a wander around the churchyard of any church built earlier than the late 18th century should show you that this is not the case. Few churchyards can boast grave markers earlier than the 18th century. So a medieval church is likely to have, in both church and churchyard, unmarked burials predating the existing gravestones. Indeed, there could be some five centuries or fifteen generations of unmarked burials as well as the up to 3 centuries (or nine generations) of marked ones, although even those are likely to have some missing markers.
  • ‘Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well’. We probably all know the grave digger scene in Hamlet without really thinking about its implications. Medieval burial areas were crowded and many graves unmarked. It was common to disturb the burials of one generation with those of a later one. The result is that medieval (and some later) burial plots tend to be well supplied with disarticulated human bones, often surpisingly near the surface.
  • This is one reason why any ground disturbance in church or churchyard requires a Faculty and often requires the presence of an archaeologist. There may of course be other archaeological concerns such as the likelihood of the structural remains of earlier buildings, but these are less common.
  • The likelihood that any ground disturbance will also disturb human remains, whether full burials or disarticulated and already disturbed bones, carries with it a particular legal requirement. Recent emphasis upon treating all human remains with respect has led to alterations in the administration of the law and means that all disturbance of human remains – whether it be a Bronze Age cremation or a 20th century interment – requires a permit from the Ministry of Justice. There is no ecclesiastical exemption in this respect so that, in addition to a Faculty, any disturbance of human remains requires an MoJ License. However, the obtaining of a license can be undertaken by the archaeologist contracted to do the watching brief. So although parishes are responsible for ensuring that all its contractors obey the law and that an MoJ license is in place if needed, they may be able to leave the obtaining of a license to their archaeologists.
  • Some work in churchyards may also require Local Authority permission. For assistance and guidance, contact the Care of Churches Officer.
  • For all ground disturbance other than that on relatively new churches built on new sites, it is likely that the Faculty will require you to provide an archaeological watching brief on any below ground work. The Guidance sheet Getting Archaeological Information included a section on finding a suitably qualified archaeologist, (or consult the Care of Churches Officer). The archaeologist will provide an estimate of the cost of the watching brief and will enter into a contract with the parish – so the parish will have control of costs.
  • Please remember that a Faculty is a legal document, issued by a legal officer (the Chancellor of the Diocese, who is usually a judge) and any stipulation in it (eg. a watching brief) is not an option but a legal requirement. Do not sanction ground disturbance which is not covered by the Faculty and ensure that all ground disturbance specified by the Faculty has a watching brief..
  • If you need a MoJ license it will stipulate reburial of the bones, probably within a year. It also is based upon the premise that human remains will at all times be treated with respect. This excludes leaving them lying around the site and implies their retrieval from spoil etc. Please ensure they are kept in a safe place prior to reburial.
  • If human bones are accidentally revealed in the churchyard, eg. in a soil slide, please contact the Care of Churches Officer and meanwhile recover those which have been disturbed and ensure that any that have not been disturbed are covered over. Human bone lying around churchyards makes a good story for the press but poor publicity for the parish.

Dr. Peter Webster (DAC Archaeologist) and Professor Ray Howell (DAC Local History and Architecture)


Guidance for best practice for the treatment of human remains excavated from Christian burial grounds in England, 2nd edition, produced by the Advisory panel on the archaeology of burials in England and available as a pdf on their website