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Archaeology shown on our mapping (FOI211001)

This Freedom of Information request asks for a details of the type of archaeology that is shown on our maps.

Request for information - Ref No: FOI211001


Thank you for your email of 5 April 2021, requesting information from Ordnance Survey in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, as set out in the extract below:

“ I am Chair of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society,, which is an archaeological charity devoted to the exploration, understanding, recording and learning about our local archaeology. Much of our field work ends in the production of reports that feed into the two national archaeological databases that cover our area - Canmore of the Historic Environment Scotland, and the Historic Environment Record of Highland Council. What has concerned our members recently is the apparent lack of recent archaeology on the Ordnance Survey mapping. What is there seems to have stopped in the 1970's or 1980's. It's therefore become a fossil of archaeological recording not an active record. This FOI request relates to the OS MasterMap Topography Layer, OS Explorer, and OS LandRanger maps. What archaeology, in Scotland at least, feeds into your mapping databases? What processes do you have in place that would record new archaeology? What policies do you have that produce the previous two responses, ie have you got a specific policy of not recording new sites, or has it just fallen by the wayside?”

Our response

I confirm that Ordnance Survey does hold some of the information you have requested.

I have extracted the following questions from your request and respond to these as follows: -

1. What archaeology, in Scotland at least, feeds into your mapping databases?

  • We do not consider this to be a valid request for information under section 8(1)(c) of the FOIA, this is because the request does not appear to adequately describe the recorded information being sought. However, under the duty to provide information and assistance in accordance with section 16 of FOIA, the following may be of assistance to you:

We can provide you with information detailing the types of archaeological features that we depict in our mapping data. The attached spreadsheet(.xlsx) provides a full list of all the historic features our capture specification covers for Great Britain. If, however we have misunderstood your request and this is not the information you are requesting, please can you provide a detailed explanation of the information you require.

2. What processes do you have in place that would record new archaeology?

I confirm the information we hold regarding the process for recording new archaeology is contained in our ‘Data Capture and Edit Guide’, this guide details our specification capture requirements.

I have extracted the relevant section and set this out below:

“New archaeological and antiquity information, and revision to information already existing, is supplied to Ordnance Survey by the national heritage bodies.
The relevant heritage bodies at May 2011 are:

  • England – Historic England
  • Scotland – Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland; and
  • Wales – Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales.

Update from the heritage bodies will be added within six months of receipt by Ordnance Survey.”

3. What policies do you have that produce the previous two responses, ie have you got a specific policy of not recording new sites, or has it just fallen by the wayside?

As detailed above our specification capture requirements are set out in our ‘Data Capture and Edit Guide’. We do not hold a separate policy.

I have extracted the relevant section of the ‘Data Capture and Edit Guide’ and set this out below:

Capture criteria

  • Features of historic interest that meet the generic specification criteria are captured with the appropriate attribution.
  • No specific historic attribution is added to features of historic importance unless the relevant statutory body has supplied such information
  • Additional features of historic interest that do not meet the generic specification are added if the relevant statutory body has informed Ordnance Survey of the need for inclusion.

Update of archaeological and antiquity information

  • During normal update historic features are not updated without the authority of the relevant statutory body except as described below. Features in Historic Area, Historic Course, Historic Indication and Historic Site feature classes are only ever updated when guided by a statutory body, with the exception of the following actions;
    • Repositioning of text to accommodate Real World Change. Text owned by Historic features may need to be moved to minimise overlap with newly captured features.
    • Creation or deletion of Historic Sites for Dismantled Railways. These do not require the authority of a statutory body.
  • During normal update Topographic and Landform Features should be changed if there is no doubt that they have gone or partially gone on the ground. This update must only be undertaken when man made structures, made surfaces or water features are captured which overlap or cover historic features . Examples include slopes which now lie inside a roofed structure, water feature or road polygon. In all other cases no change should be made to the historic features, even if the features cannot be identified on the ground or from imagery. Where the historic features are edited, update must be limited to a minimum, if a slope is partially covered by a building only the part covered by the building should be removed.
  • Modern features associated with a historic site, for example fences across it or new visitor facilities should be updated as usual.
  • If a feature is radically changed or completely destroyed then this information should be fed to the statutory body. If an updated depiction is required this will also be requested from the statutory body. These actions should be via the team responsible for Data Quality.

Historic Features

This topic provides further information on depiction of antiquity features.

Definition of Antiquities

For Ordnance Survey purposes, antiquities are defined as existing artificial features of a date not later than AD 1714, together with very important sites of battlefields and natural features connected with important historical events. Exceptionally, features and sites of a date later than AD 1714 may be treated as antiquities if they are of national importance. Antiquity information is shown in Ordnance Survey data in accordance with the wishes of the statutory bodies.

Naming of archaeological and antiquity information
All names for archaeological and antiquity features are supplied or verified with the relevant statutory body.

Changes are not made without approval from the national heritage agencies.”

In accordance with our duty to provide advice and assistance under section 16 of the FOIA, the following explanation may assist you further:

New sites will generally not be updated in our mapping as part of our normal update. Updates will normally only be made if information has been supplied by the relevant statutory body however, on occasion sites will be updated or deleted in the event of significant real-world change, although the focus is largely on not degrading or removing historic data where possible.

If you believe there may be missing historic sites from our data which meet out capture specification, you may wish to inform the statutory body for Scotland, who should then provide the relevant information to Ordnance Survey for update.

Internal review

Your enquiry has been processed according to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000. If you are unhappy with our response, you may request an internal review with our Internal Review Officer by contacting them, within two months of receipt of our final response to your Freedom of Information (FOI) request, as follows:

Internal Review Officer
Customer Service Centre
Ordnance Survey
Adanac Drive
SO16 0AS

Contact us via our FoI form

Please include the reference number above. You may request an internal review where you believe Ordnance Survey has:

  • Failed to respond to your request within the time limits (normally 20 working days)
  • Failed to tell you whether or not we hold the information
  • Failed to provide the information you have requested
  • Failed to explain the reasons for refusing a request
  • Failed to correctly apply an exemption or exception

The Internal Review Officer will not have been involved in the original decision. They will conduct an independent internal review and will inform you of the outcome of the review normally within 20 working days, but exceptionally within 40 working days, in line with the Information Commissioner’s guidance.

The Internal Review Officer will either: uphold the original decision, provide an additional explanation of the exemption/s applied or release further information, if it is considered appropriate to do so.

Appeal to Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
If, following the outcome of the internal review you remain unhappy with our response, you may raise an appeal, within three months of receiving our response, with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Further information can be found on the ICO website ( under ‘Report a concern’ or you may wish to call the ICO helpline on 0303 123 1113.