Soldiers taking part in ‘Operation Nightingale’ unearthed a major sixth-century burial site at Barrow Clump, uncovering 27 bodies - including Anglo-Saxon warriors - buried with a range of personal possessions. Artefacts uncovered included shield bosses, brooches, amber and glass beads, spear heads, a silver ring, and a wooden drinking vessel with bronze bands.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) worked with The Rifles to create the project, which helps soldiers injured in Afghanistan return to their regiment or prepare for civilian life. It also helps the Ministry Of Defence fulfil its statutory obligations.
DIO’s Senior Historic Advisor, Richard Osgood said:
The project has been a huge success and represents a significant archaeological find. The Bronze Age and Anglo Saxon burial ground is relatively small and we expected to uncover around 15 graves, but instead have unearthed 27.
Archaeologically, the really exciting thing is that because of the variety of artefacts found by soldiers working on Operation Nightingale, any future student wanting to study the sixth century of Wessex will have to refer to Barrow Clump. This is thanks to the hard work of the soldiers from the British Army.
Co-directed by Richard Osgood and Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, of Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), the project draws in assistance from partners including English Heritage, Wessex Archaeology and the Army’s survey unit, 135 Geographical Squadron, to help deliver the programme.
Operation Nightingale recently received a special award from the British Archaeological Awards in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of military personnel injured in Afghanistan.
Rifleman Mike Kelly from 1 RIFLES said:
I never imaged that we would uncover such amazing artefacts. I discovered a warrior that had been buried with his shield placed across his face, which I believe to be a sign of respect.
I have been to war myself and I can imagine what the soldier would have felt as he went into battle. Knowing that as a modern day warrior I have unearthed the remains of another, fills me with an overwhelming sense of respect.
The project gives soldiers the opportunity to learn a series of excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques and also enhancing their publication and presentation skills. Eight soldiers are moving on to study archaeology at Leicester University, thanks to the programme. The project also helps build a sense of worth and purpose for participants through learning new skills and building on team-working and social skills.
One of the soldiers’ early discoveries was the remains of a sixth-century Anglo-Saxon female. ‘Davina’, as they named the woman, was believed to have died in her late teens to early 20s. Artefacts unearthed at Barrow Clump will finally be laid to rest in Wiltshire Heritage Museum, in Devizes.
Rowan Kendrick, from 5 RIFLES said:
My best subject at school was History and I really enjoyed school trips to museums, I cant believe that when I visit the Wiltshire heritage museum I will be looking at artefacts that I have found.
David Dawson, Director of Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes said:
We hope to be able to put the artefacts on permanent display in a new Anglo Saxon gallery. In the meantime, we are looking to feature these wonderful and amazing discoveries in an exclusive exhibition, some time in the near future.