This special issue of the Journal of Geophysics and Engineering hosts a selection of the papers that were presented at the session entitled `Near surface geophysics for the study and the management of historical resources: past, present and future', organized within the framework of the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (Vienna, Austria, 19-24 April 2009). As the conveners, we invited the active participants of this session to prepare papers reflecting their presentations and submit them for publication in the Journal of Geophysics and Engineering. This special issue presents the papers which have passed through the prolonged and stringent reviewing process. The papers presented in this issue illustrate the application of novel instrumentation, surface and airborne remote sensing techniques, as well as data processing oriented both to new archaeological targets characterization and cultural heritage conservation. In this field, increasing interest has been observed in recent years in non-destructive and non-invasive geophysical test methods. They allow one to overcome the subjectivity and ambiguity arising from the number and locations of the sites chosen to perform the destructive examination. In addition, very recently, much attention has been given to the integration of the classical geophysical techniques (GPR, magnetic, ERT, IP) with new emerging surface and subsurface sensing techniques (optical sensors, lidar, microwave tomography, MASW) for a combined monitoring of archaeological constructions and artefacts. We hope that the presented research papers will be interesting for readers in the different branches of environmental and cultural heritage sciences and will attract new potential contributors to the important topics of archaeological targets recognition, cultural heritage monitoring and diagnostics. Statistically, every day several tens of significant archaeological objects are destroyed and damaged throughout the Earth, and we hope that our investigation will help to decrease these losses. We wish to thank all the authors for their presentations and fruitful discussions at the session and for preparing these articles. We are grateful to all the reviewers whose accurate and hard work has made the successful publication of this special issue possible. We also thank the editors and managers of the Journal of Geophysics and Engineering (particularly Sarah Quin) for their skilled and pleasant collaboration.