Rescue archaeology is the process of recording a historic site that is under threat from damage or destruction. The archaeology is then preserved through recording. Archaeological sites can face many factors which threaten to damage them. Weathering can lead to a site being lost, for instance along a coast or near a river where the flow of water erodes the site and over time it may eventually be lost altogether. Human activity also plays a role, for example repeated ploughing may destroyed a buried site, while the building of roads or construction of a new building in a city may result in the destruction of any archaeological evidence.
There is debate amongst archaeologists over how much emphasis should be placed on rescue archaeology and whether sites which are not at risk should be left untouched in favour of recording those which face damage or destruction.
While is a commonly held opinion that any information recovered from a site before it is lost forever is useful, this is not without problems. To begin with, the part being recorded may not be representative of the whole site, so conclusions based on a small part may be poorly founded. There is also the problem that as the objective is to record a site before it is destroyed investigation may be rushed. This is particularly the case on building sites where contractors have asked archaeologists to assess the site but have a timetable to meet for construction.
- Greene, Kevin (2002). Archaeology: An Introduction, 4th edition. London: Routledge. pp. 285. ISBN 0-415-23355-0.
- Barker, Philip (1993). Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, third edition. London: Routledge. p. 140. ISBN 0-415-15152-X.
- Barker, Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, pp. 140–141.