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Department of Archaeology: Archaeological Services

Geophysical survey

Geophysics is widely used in the support of planning applications.

Geophysical survey is a cost-effective, non-intrusive and relatively quick way of detecting and assessing sub-surface features. Our geophysical survey service specialises in identifying potential archaeological deposits. We offer a range of geophysical techniques, which can be employed individually or together depending on site specific factors.

Survey is followed by specialist analysis and interpretation of the data. Over the last 18 years our experienced survey teams have carried out surveys on a wide variety of projects, including:

  • Pre-development investigations for residential, commercial and public developments
  • Pre-development investigations for road, pipeline, renewable energy and other infrastructure schemes across the UK
  • Park and garden surveys for historic landscape projects
  • Academic research around the world
  • National and international heritage management projects

All work is carried out to national standards and guidance. The survey techniques we most commonly use are:

Rapid high-resolution magnetometer survey


Fluxgate gradiometry provides a rapid detailed assessment of large areas. This technique detects anomalies in the vertical component of the earth’s magnetic field and is particularly useful for identifying archaeological deposits such as ditches and pits, building remains, burnt areas, kilns and hearths.


Earth electrical resistance (resistivity)

A small electrical current is passed through the earth, with differences in relative resistance used to map features including ditches, pits, voids and structural features such as wall footings, garden features, platforms, paths, tracks and roads. Although the technique is more time consuming than magnetometry, it can be used in some situations where magnetometry is not suitable.

Ground-penetrating radar

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR)

A radio signal is transmitted and received, recording reflections from sub-surface features and objects. The time taken for the radio wave to be reflected and received provides depth information in addition to horizontal location information.

Our surveys are related to the Ordnance Survey National Grid using global positioning systems (GPS) with real-time kinematic (RTK) corrections typically providing 10mm accuracy. Survey data can be quickly processed and analysed and provided in a variety of formats, including full CAD integration.

For advice or to use our services contact:

Duncan Hale
Senior Archaeologist
Archaeological Services
Durham University
Green Lane

tel 0191 334 1121
fax 0191 334 1126

Magnetometer survey of a Roman settlement and a modern service pipe

Magnetometer survey of a prehistoric enclosure settlement


Resistivity survey

Ground-penetrating radar survey of a chambered tomb