Preventive archaeology is governed by the provisions of Book V of the French Heritage Code.

Updated on
03 February 2021

The preventive archaeology system in France is based on the law of January 17, 2001, amended in 2003 and more recently in 2016 by the law on Creative Freedom, Architecture and Heritage. The State establishes the regulatory procedures for archaeological operations, with supervision entrusted to the regional prefect. Funding is based on two distinct models, depending on whether the archaeological operation is an evaluation or excavation.

“Developer”: the body that plans to carry out a development project.
“Operator”: the body that carries out archaeological operations.


Preventive archaeology is governed by the provisions of Book V of the Heritage Code (legislative section and regulatory section), in particular by Title II, which codifies the law of January 17, 2001 amended by the laws of August 1, 2003, February 17, 2009 and July 7, 2016, together with the implementing decree of June 3, 2004 on administrative and financial procedures for preventive archaeology.

Inrap’s statutes are defined by the decree of January 16, 2002, amended by the decree of August 11, 2016, codified in the regulatory section of the aforementioned Code, Book V, Title II and Title IV, Chapter V, Section III.

The European Convention signed in Malta on January 16, 1992, supplementing the European Convention for the Protection of Archaeological Heritage signed in London on May 6, 1969, responds to changing planning policies in European countries. It recognises that the “need to protect the archaeological heritage should be reflected in town and country planning and cultural development policies,” and reflects the commitment of the parties “to institute, by means appropriate to the State in question, a legal system for the protection of the archaeological heritage”.
It further requires the party States to “guarantee the scientific significance of archaeological research work” and to “increase the material resources for preventive archaeology”.
The Malta Convention forms the basis of the current French system of preventive archaeology.

The law of January 17, 2001 on preventive archaeology gives the discipline a specific legal framework. The only previous legislation on archaeological excavations dated back to the Vichy regime and the law of September 27, 1941. Driven by Jérôme Carcopino, the secretary of state for education and young people, this law gave the State powers of authorisation and supervision. The 2001 law affirms both the public nature of preventive archaeology and its scientific vocation. It confirms the State’s role of prescription and dictates the creation of a public administrative body dedicated to evaluations and excavations. Thus was born Inrap (French national institute for preventive archaeological research) on February 1, 2002, under the dual supervision of the ministry of culture and the ministry of research.

The law of August 1, 2003 amended the legislative provisions from 2001:

  • Executing evaluations is now the responsibility of a public monopoly shared between Inrap and the local authorities equipped with an archaeological service accredited by the State.
  • The economic nature of excavations is recognised: the legislator entrusts the developer with the role of excavation project owner and opens up excavations to free competition between operators under certain conditions (in particular, the State grants authorisation to operators and monitors the compliance of contracts with excavation requirements).

The law of July 7, 2016 altered the legislative system once more, notably the following aspects:

  • The law specifically provides that the State exercise scientific control of the preventive archaeology work;
  • Evaluations are shared between Inrap and the archaeological services of the local authorities, which are now accredited for an indefinite period, with a scientific, technical and financial review carried out by the State every five years;
  • State supervision of the licencing of private operators has been strengthened at the scientific, technical, administrative, social and financial levels;
  • The State checks that all admissible tenders comply with the requirements of an excavation prior to the developer selecting the operator;
  • A new unified system of ownership for archaeological material has been set up: objects unearthed following archaeological work or fortuitous discoveries are presumed to belong to the State. This new scheme, however, does not apply to objects found on land acquired before the law came into force;

The law enshrines the notion that the scientific interest warrants conservation of a group of archaeological objects in their entirety. Their alienation or division is subject to prior notification to the State.


The regulations governing evaluations and excavations are defined by the State, which lays down the deadlines and procedures. The archaeological work is performed under the supervision of the regional prefect (DRAC — Regional Archaeology Service).

Find out more about the legislation (in French)

Find out more about the procedures for implementing preventive archaeology (In french)



Evaluations are financed by the Redevance d’Archéologie Préventive (RAP — Preventive Archaeology Tax).

The RAP is payable by any person planning development work that affects the subsoil and is subject to notification and authorisation under the Town Planning Code or the Environmental Code, based on certain thresholds according to the nature of the project.


Developers cover the cost of excavations: they pay the public or private operators chosen by them in agreement with the State services.

Some excavations are eligible for a subsidy or total or partial funding from the State via the National Fund for Preventive Archaeology (Fnap: Fonds National pour l’Archéologie Préventive).

Find out more about funding

Preventive Archaeology Fee
National Fund for Preventive Archaeology​