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Archaeology and Infrastructure: 10 Top Tips

MOLA team

Infrastructure projects breed complexity, due to scale, engineering and logistical challenges, length of projects, size of teams and complex decision making mechanisms. Over many years of working on both rural and urban infrastructure projects we have observed that archaeology presents some unique challenges and opportunities. As we plan for archaeological work on several mega-schemes in 2017 we have been pulling together our best practice tips on how to manage the risks associated with archaeology and deliver project-enhancing meaningful public benefits. So here are 10 top tips!

1. Early planning, responsiveness and creativity

All major infrastructure projects should be well-planned and include archaeological advice from the start. This begins with consultancy during the EIA and route optioneering stages will carry on after main contractors are appointed. The key is to keep talking to the archaeologists as designs and proposals evolve and not assume that the methodology agreed for an earlier scenario will be the best for the next iteration of the scheme. The beauty of archaeology is that it is about gathering knowledge and this doesn’t necessarily mean excavating everything that is about to be affected by construction. There have been major schemes where programmes of non-intrusive survey have been the main component of work, because this was considered the best way of recovering new and significant information on our past. So when planning, keep checking if the methodology is still right and ask the archaeologists to be creative about their approach. 

2. Understanding the impact of different procurement and management models

Most infrastructure projects now use a version of NEC3 contracts, which provide a clear and transparent structure for resourcing, task management, budget and payment. What does vary is the actual management structure of the client team and lines of responsibility and accountability. For some the archaeological contract is managed directly from within the client team, for others it is devolved to main contractors. There is no right way to do it, but doing some scenario planning from the start is important, so that the right management structures are in place. Key risks can develop with both approaches so it is important to plan how management models will work and ensure risks are managed.

3. Early field testing to define scope

Archaeology is no different from other professional construction disciplines – early focus on the design provides excellent returns in terms of cost and timescale for the delivery programme. The sooner we know the extent and significance of archaeological remains the better the chances of influencing design and methodology to save on cost and programme. Our interview with Simon Levell of Northamptonshire Highways provides a good example of how crucial this is. 

4. Close integration of construction and archaeology teams on site

It is essential to have close collaboration once work on site starts as the archaeological, construction, engineering and design teams must be working to the same agreed programme and goals. We find that projects go well when the archaeological programmer is included in the overall project planning meetings and when collaboration is taken down to the site hut level, for example with shared toolbox talks. The more each profession understands the constraints and challenges of the other’s environment the better. We regularly provide CPD sessions to equip other professionals to better understand and plan for archaeological variation in scope and to help our colleagues understand the options available.

5. Excellent communication and clear documentation

Excellent communication is also crucial where there are many different interfaces and the project can run over many years. Staff changes and multiple subcontracts are inevitable. The key is having a document control process in place that ensures that requirements, methodology and programme information is handed down through project teams and fully acknowledged. We encourage our teams to consider how to present information so that it can be read quickly by a non-archaeological audience. Infographics, tables and easy to understand metrics are better than pages of reports.

6. Ensure appropriate resourcing

There is a shortage of qualified and experienced field archaeologists, managers and specialists in the UK, plus recruitment from Europe has become more difficult as a result of the fall in the pound and Brexit uncertainties. Archaeological field staff are often ‘shared’ between different units, so it isn’t a case of just approaching more units as the pool is limited.  

Part of the answer is more training and routes into archaeology which several initiatives have begun to address, including MOLA's traineeship and others from CIfA and Historic England. The wider infrastructure project teams can also take an active role for example by providing opportunities for archaeological training on sites off the critical path which can help secure resources as well as deliver legacy. The other key to resourcing is accurate forward planning and risk sharing. If the project needs a large team on a certain date, then the client may be better served by absorbing some of the stand-down costs to avoid later delays due to recruiting when resource demand increases. Creative planning can also help here-all archaeological projects have non-field tasks  which will be required for final delivery and stood-down teams can still be providing value to contribute effectively and efficiently to overall project completion.

7. Robust management structure

Archaeological contractors will need to have sufficient resourcing within their project management, management and support teams to effectively coordinate such large and complex projects. It is also important to have an understanding of contracts and have worked previously to NEC options and ideally have QS support. The more fragmented and devolved the overall archaeological plan the bigger the management team needed to control and deliver it.

8. Speaking the language of infrastructure schemes

It is very important that archaeological contractors have an understanding of how large infrastructure schemes work and can deliver information in a format that works for construction design. All schemes will now require datasets that can be incorporated into BIM and archaeological contractors are no exception. It is important that they can understand and provide the necessary information.

9. Invest in innovation

Most infrastructure projects encourage innovation in their supply chain in general and this can pay dividends in the long run for the works programme as well as legacy. Increasingly, processes can be streamlined and archaeologists at MOLA Headland Infrastructure are using innovative new applications such as drones for site survey, digital recording and photogrammetry all to help speed up time on site and support overall cost reduction.

10. Use archaeology to contribute towards the scheme’s legacy

Archaeology is a public benefit and the purpose of it is to deliver new knowledge about our shared past, place-making, training opportunities and excitement! There are many examples of great public engagement and we expect the work on major infrastructure projects in the next few years to make major contributions, so watch this space!

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