Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavation Archive (Data Paper) Open Data

Framework Archaeology (compiled by Niall Donald)

Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, SP4 6EB. UK

Cite this as: Framework Archaeology 2014 Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavation Archive (Data Paper), Internet Archaeology 36.

Dataset Location

The dataset has been deposited with the Archaeology Data Service doi: 10.5284/1011888


Referee statement by Nicholas J. Cooper

Dataset Content

The digital archive for excavations at Heathrow Terminal 5 (Framework Archaeology 2011) contains the files necessary to reconstruct a working geographic information and database system describing the three main phases of excavation on the project from 1996 to 2007. Where applicable the 1996 data have been transcribed to match the data formats used by Framework Archaeology from 1999 onwards.


Framework Archaeology is a Joint Venture agreement between Oxford Archaeology (OA) and Wessex Archaeology (WA) to provide archaeological services to BAA (formerly British Airports Authority, now Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd). Given the potential scale of some of BAA's projects, the joint venture enables Framework Archaeology to draw on the full resources of both OA and WA, including site staff, specialist managers, administrative support, and technical facilities. This combination of resources (totalling over 300 staff) considerably reduces risk for both our client and us, and provides Framework Archaeology with a wider skills base.

Framework Archaeology is committed to a particular archaeological philosophy developed by BAA's archaeological consultants, Gill Andrews and John Barrett. This is concerned with understanding how people inhabited past landscapes: archaeology as a study of people rather than deposits or objects. This approach is at the heart of the Archaeological Policy adopted by the BAA Main Board. Framework projects are thus academically driven but undertaken within a commercial environment. In order to fulfil the approach a Framework Archaeology recording system was developed and is now in operation on all Framework Projects. It places great emphasis on interpretation in addition to recording and developing a historical narrative as the site is excavated (Andrews, Barrett and Lewis 2000).

Summary Description

Hunter-gatherers are known to have been active at a location on the edge of the Colne floodplain in the 7th or 6th millennia BC. During the first half of the 4th millennium BC a posthole complex and possible settlement were located along the alignment of the subsequent Stanwell Cursus. The first farmers also constructed at least three other cursus monuments and a small circular enclosure creating a major ceremonial centre. By 1700BC however, resources and land were apportioned not through ceremony but through the physical demarcation of the landscape by field boundaries belonging to distinct settlements or farmsteads both separated and connected by double-ditched track-ways.

By the Middle Iron Age, people lived in a nucleated settlement of roundhouses, four-post structures and livestock enclosures practising an entirely subsistence-based agricultural regime that was biased towards a pastoral economy. This settlement became a focal point for continuing settlement through the late Iron Age and Roman periods with an increased emphasis on cereal crops. The inhabitants of the settlement built a new field system and droveway in response to the wider social political and economic changes of the later Roman empire.

By the Saxon period people were living to the north-west of the main Roman settlement and by the mid Saxon period they appear to have abandoned the landscape. However in the 11th or 12th century AD, the land was re-occupied and the new inhabitants built a complex of stock management enclosures and post structures at Burrow Hill. The character of the Heathrow area remained predominately rural until the construction of the Perry Oaks sludge works in 1934 and the airport between 1944 and 1946.


In 1993, BAA plc and Heathrow Airport Limited submitted a joint planning application to develop an additional passenger terminal complex (Terminal 5), together with the provision of aircraft aprons and taxiways, and include the realignment of rivers and landscaping. The resulting archaeological excavations were undertaken as three main phases of work:

Importantly the aim of the Terminal 5 archaeological programme was to move beyond the description and recovery of archaeological remains and to arrive at an understanding of the history of human inhabitation and the practical ways in which people established their presence in the material, social and political conditions of their day. Framework Archaeology developed a recording system and fieldwork methodology to apply that academic approach to human inhabitation and to allow the construction of the historical narrative in the field. Both were supported with geographic information and database systems deployed on-site and throughout post-analysis and publication.

Re-use potential

The dataset was constructed with two main approaches to re-use in mind:

For the purposes of the archive it has been assumed that users will wish to analyse rather than edit the data. As a result the archaeological stratigraphy has been presented in a cross-tabulated manner and pre-loaded into the GIS shapefiles as described in the StratigraphicModel readme file. The extent and the roughly rectangular shape of the excavations extending over more than a square kilometre of landscape and over all periods make the archaeological record from Heathrow a fine resource for any spatially-based archaeological analysis. Further examination of the evidence for multiple known and suspected Bronze Age settlements and the process of nucleation observed in the Iron Age may be particularly rewarding.

Relationship to other publications

The Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations monograph series provide the context in which this dataset should be viewed (Framework Archaeology 2006; 2008; 2010). Each provides a wealth of interpretative support for the data and each has its own digital publication (Windows operating systems only) in the form of the Framework Free Viewer issued on the CD-Rom at the back of each volume—essentially a stripped down Geographic Information System allowing immediate access to a summary of the full archive.

The Framework Free Viewer can be downloaded from the Framework website. The main differences between the published digital data (Free Viewer) and the archived digital data (hosted by the Archaeology Data Service) are:

Framework Archaeology has published an equivalent dataset describing the excavations at Stansted Airport (Framework Archaeology 2009). The Stansted data for the Free Viewer can also be downloaded and an online version is hosted by ADS.


Andrews, G.A., Barrett J.C. and Lewis J.S.C. 2000 'Interpretation not record: the practice of archaeology', Antiquity 74, 525-30.

Framework Archaeology 2006 Landscape Evolution in the Middle Thames Valley, Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations Vol. 1, Perry Oaks, Framework Archaeology Monograph 1, Oxford and Salisbury.

Framework Archaeology 2008 From hunter gatherers to huntsmen, a history of the Stansted Landscape, Framework Archaeology Monograph 2, Oxford and Salisbury.

Framework Archaeology 2009 The Stansted Framework Project [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

Framework Archaeology 2010 Landscape Evolution in the Middle Thames Valley, Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations Vol. 2, Framework Archaeology Monograph 3, Oxford and Salisbury.

Framework Archaeology 2011 Framework Archaeology Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavation Archive [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


The creation of the digital archive was generously funded by BAA plc.

Referee Statement

Nicholas J. Cooper, University of Leicester Archaeological Services LE1 7RH

Cite this as: Cooper, N.J. 'Referee Statement' in Framework Archaeology (2014). Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavation Archive (Data Paper). Internet Archaeology, (36).

This data paper flags up the publication of the third level of information relating to the Terminal 5 excavations undertaken by Framework Archaeology at Heathrow and joins their other major archived projects at Stansted. The publication of the full digital archive provides an opportunity to explore the entire and updated record of the excavations that was previously only partially available on the Free Viewer CDs accompanying the two published site narrative volumes in 2006 and 2010.

Framework Archaeology was founded on the principle of undertaking 'academically-driven projects within the commercial environment' which place the previous inhabitants at the heart of the story; ditches did not continue in an easterly direction on their own but, instead, were dug by people who, as a community, made choices about living in a landscape, which consequently evolved around them over time. The mechanism driving this principle was to develop a hand-held on-site recording system that would allow interpretation to evolve in an informed way during the excavation itself and right through the post-excavation phase. At the heart of the digital archive is therefore a GIS package accompanied by stratigraphic, finds and environmental datasets, allowing the user to reconstruct the excavation of the site and potentially re-interpret it. Considerable time has therefore been devoted to making the system work effectively and this greatly enhances its usability.

The results of the excavation represent a major contribution to our understanding of landscape evolution in the Middle Thames Valley as overviewed in the Thames Through Time volumes (Lambrick and Robinson 2009; Booth et al. 2007). The landscape sequence has been traced from the Mesolithic to the present and significant evidence relates to the evolution of the Neolithic ceremonial complex centring on the Stanwell Cursus, which is succeeded by a bounded Middle Bronze Age landscape incorporating up to six settlements. Links are established between the Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscapes; for example the halo of Middle Bronze Age waterholes and their associated waterlogged deposits around the Neolithic horse-shoe enclosure. The Middle and Late Bronze Age ceramic assemblage is particularly impressive with over 11,000 sherds out of a prehistoric total of 18,000, and the ability to illustrate sherd distributions across a landscape block of this size will encourage comparative studies with other sites. The mapping of the evolving Iron Age and Roman landscapes on this scale also allows us to see the process of settlement nucleation in action; a sequence closing with the symbolic deposition of a lead tank. Whilst providing a wealth of comparative material for professionals working on the gravels, these datasets should be meat and drink to PhD students and their easy availability should encourage academics to devise enticing topics that attract funding and ensure that the effort already expended continues to pay dividends.


Booth, P., Dodd, A., Robinson, M. and Smith, A. 2007 The Archaeology of the Gravel Terraces of the Upper and Middle Thames: the Early Historical Period, AD1-1000, Oxford Archaeology Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 27, Oxford.

Lambrick, G. and Robinson, M. 2009 The Archaeology of the Gravel Terraces of the Upper and Middle Thames: The Thames Valley in Late Prehistory, 1500BC-AD50, Oxford Archaeology Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 29, Oxford.

June 2014


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Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.