Preventive archaeology ensures the «preservation by study» of traces of human occupation, as soon as they are threatened by a development. It has developed as urbanization and major infrastructure works progressed, allowing for the taking into account of the archaeological heritage without slowing down the development of land use planning. Preventive archaeology operations are prescribed and controlled by the state.
The Regional Archaeology Service (SRA) is associated with the instruction of development authorizations: declaration of works, building permits, demolition permits, planning permits and impact study. Where archaeological remains are threatened or likely to be threatened, the prefect of the region may refuse the authorization or propose to refuse it to the competent authority (Article R111-4 of the Urban Planning Code). This procedure is exceptional: as a general rule, the prefect issues prescriptions for preventive archaeology.
"Saving by the study"
There are many archaeological sites and conservation of all would be difficult to reconcile with land use planning. That is why the idea of “safeguarding by study” has become prevalent. When it is difficult to maintain a site, an alternative solution is the implementation of a preventive excavation. Indeed, a methodical excavation makes it possible to collect most of the scientific information collected by a site. However, any archaeological excavation destroys the object of its study. Almost always, after a preventive excavation, there is no remnant that can be preserved in situ.
The archaeological diagnosis must be made prior to the authorized development, but it does not prevent the issuance of the authorization. The diagnosis is a limited reconnaissance operation that aims to characterize an archaeological site (extension, conservation, chronology), allowing an accurate assessment of the nature of the risk. It is carried out by a public operator, after signing an agreement with the planner. It is either the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), or an authorised or territorially competent local authority service. The diagnosis is financed by the fee for preventive archaeology levied on development authorizations.
The search for technical solutions
When the diagnosis reveals a significant archaeological site, the Regional Service of Archaeology seeks the means to ensure its conservation, in consultation with the developer. The latter may propose technical solutions (relocation of installations, less impact on the ground, embankment, etc.), which can reduce the scale of the preventive excavation or make it unnecessary. If these solutions ensure the good conservation of the remains, total or partial, they are the subject of an order of modification of the consistency of the project.
Preventive archaeological excavation
Failing this, the prefect of the region may issue a prescription order for preventive archaeological excavation, on a proposal from the Regional Curator of Archaeology and after consultation with the Territorial Commission for Archaeological Research (CTRA). This decree includes a scientific specification (CCS), which defines the objectives and methodology of the archaeological operation to be carried out.
The excavation is financed by the developer and carried out under his project management. For the individual building a house for himself, it is supported by the State through the National Fund for Preventive Archaeology (FNAP). For the housing units built with the financial support of the State, 75% is supported and for the subdivisions of free plots of builder’s land, 50%. This fund also allows to grant to the other developers, particularly if the project is of general interest, the amount of which may not exceed 50% of the cost of the excavation.
The excavation is carried out by INRAP or a preventive archaeology operator, public or private, approved or authorised by the State. It is the planner, the owner of the archaeological excavation, who chooses the operator (list of authorised operators) and signs with him a contract specifying the modalities of the operation and integrating the scientific intervention project (PSI) which meets, in detail, the scientific specifications of the excavation order. To obtain the authorization to search, the contracting authority shall apply to the Prefect of the Region (addressed to the DRAC) by attaching these documents (contract, PSI and certificate of approval or authorisation) in accordance with the Decree of 3 July 2017 laying down the list of elements constituting the offers of operators for carrying out preventive archaeological excavations. The Regional Archaeology Service verifies compliance and issues the search authorization.
At the end of the field search, a laboratory study phase is initiated, lasting from several months to three years, at the end of which a very detailed report is produced (Final Report of Operation or RFO, the content of which is specified by the decree of September 27, 2004 defining the standards of content and presentation of reports of archaeological operations). It is examined by the Territorial Archaeological Research Commission for validation, while the excavation archives, objects and remains collected are handed over to the Regional Archaeology Service which keeps them in the repositories and centres of conservation and study.
Find the instructions for use of preventive archaeology: