Developers’ archaeologists criticised after human burial find near Hitchin

The site north-east of Priors Hill in Pirton. Picture: Google Street View

The site north-east of Priors Hill in Pirton. Picture: Google Street View - Credit: Archant

Archaeologists evaluating a field near Hitchin on behalf of a housing developer have been criticised after they covered over and failed to date a human burial site they found.

The site off Priors Hill in Pirton where JPP Land hopes to build 25 homes. Picture: The Edwards Iris

The site off Priors Hill in Pirton where JPP Land hopes to build 25 homes. Picture: The Edwards Irish Partnership LLP Architects & Surveyors - Credit: Archant

The team from Pre-Construct Archaeology found a human skeleton surrounded by a wooden structure at Priors Hill in Pirton while evaluating the site on behalf of JPP Land, which has applied for planning permission to build 25 homes there.

According to a report on the work from consultants CgMs Heritage, the team decided not to excavate the remains as “they were not under imminent threat nor was dating/preservation information required for costing purposes. Further a Ministry of Justice licence was not obtained due to time constraints.”

Gil Burleigh of the North Hertfordshire Archaeology Society, who lives in Pirton, has called this “shocking” – particularly as a similar find in 2015 was excavated, dated and found be from the ninth century.

He said the aim set out in the CgMs report itself of assessing and dating the site had not been met, and accused Herts County Council’s archaeological advisers to North Herts District Council of being too lenient with developers regarding such investigations.

Pirton-based archaeologist Gil Burleigh. Picture: Gil Burleigh

Pirton-based archaeologist Gil Burleigh. Picture: Gil Burleigh - Credit: Archant


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Mr Burleigh, who is heritage adviser to Pirton Parish Council, said: “Pirton’s heritage is being short-changed.”

Responding to Mr Burleigh’s points, a JPP Land spokesman said it would be “extremely poor practice to fully excavate any human remains encountered at the evaluation trial trenching stage”, as this would “pre-judge any requirement of the county archaeologist or Historic England to retain the remains in situ”. He added that removal would be best done after “the determination of a planning application if a consent was given”.

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The JPP spokesman also said a Ministry of Justice licence would not typically be issued at the evaluation trial trenching phase. Archaeologists can obtain these licences in advance.

A spokeswoman for Historic England said: “It is for the local authority’s archaeological advisors to determine whether the aims of the archaeological evaluation in question have been adequately met.”

A county council spokesman said: “Should these projects progress we will have the opportunity to ask NHDC for more archaeological investigations and increase our knowledge still further, while ensuring that any archaeological remains found are appropriately conserved.”

To see the planning application, go to north-herts.gov.uk and look up reference 17/04239/OP.

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