Area of archaeological potential

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Areas of archaeological potential and other terms such as area of high archaeological potential or urban archaeological zone are terms used to identify parts of the country where it is known that buried archaeology is likely to survive. They are primarily created and used in the planning process at act as triggers that can alert planning officers to possible archaeological disturbance caused by proposed new development. They are often marked out on GIS databases and any application for development within them is likely to be referred to the county archaeologist for comment and advice. This process is in keeping with the UK government guidelines on archaeology and planning, known as PPG 16.

Development in an area of archaeological potential is likely to require archaeological evaluation and possible mitigation work in advance of building commencing. The areas are selected through study of past excavation work and historical and academic sources including each county's Sites and Monuments Record.

The comparable term used in Australian archaeology is potential archaeological deposit (PAD). This was initially used in archaeological survey to distinguish rock shelters that were likely to contain archaeological deposit on the basis of gross site characteristics, versus those unlikely to contain cultural deposits, and those with visible artefactual material on the surface of the shelter floor. During the 1990s the term became more widely used in general field survey to reflect probabilistic occurrence in all landscapes. These are normally specified in the survey methodology but would usually be a combination of preferred landscape locations (proximity to water, slope aspect versus prevailing winds, etc.), access to resource zones such as wetlands, previous archaeological work, ethno-historical observations, assumed post-depositional processes and the archaeologist's own preconceptions, which may or may not be justified.

As in British practice the purpose of designating a PAD is to identify areas of archaeological potential for further management, typically starting with test-pitting to confirm or refute, statistically if not absolutely, the presence of archaeological material.