This paper investigates the rationale for excavation against the background of a new trend in archaeology: the renewed interest in the values of experience and empiricism in both archaeological practice and interpretation. It is argued that we should seriously reconsider the principles of archaeological heritage management as it has developed from the 1970s onwards. Reasons for excavating are discussed by referring to three examples: (1) the reconstruction of cultural evolution in the time period roughly between 40,000 and 30,000 B.P., when anatomically modern humans entered Europe but Neanderthals were still there; (2) recent excavations in 20th-century terrorscapes; and (3) public activities, like geocaching, that evoke a kind of archaeological experience. It is concluded that the time is ripe for a broad empirical and experiential attitude, based on new intellectual orientations like the new empiricism, to return to the archaeological agenda. Excavation may fulfil a vital role in this project. © Cambridge University Press 2011.