Soldiers help excavate Roman site in Wales

Operation Nightingale participants at work on a hypocaust at the Roman site in Caerwent [Picture: Crown copyright]
Operation Nightingale participants at work on a hypocaust at the Roman site in Caerwent [Picture: Crown copyright]

An award-winning project is using archaeology to aid the recovery of injured soldiers.

Operation Nightingale – which has been recognised by the British Archaeological Awards for its innovation – has seen soldiers excavating the remains of a Roman building at Caerwent Training Area near Newport.

“The feedback from Service personnel who have attended the programme so far is that every single one has enjoyed themselves and gained a positive experience that has helped their recovery.”

Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe – also a qualified archaeologist.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and Defence Archaeology Group worked with a number of units including The Rifles to create the unique and hugely successful programme, which gives injured military personnel the opportunity to learn a series of excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques.

The soldiers, who joined the programme voluntarily, will also produce a report of their findings which will help enhance their publication and presentation skills. [Picture: Crown Copyright]
The soldiers, who joined the programme voluntarily, will also produce a report of their findings which will help enhance their publication and presentation skills. [Picture: Crown Copyright]

“The project has proved of immense value thus far in assisting the recovery of soldiers in The Rifles and other units, while at the same time accomplishing some great archaeology.”

Richard OsgoodDIO’s Senior Historic Advisor.

The majority of soldiers who took part were serving personnel; however there were also a number of injured veterans on the programme, including from the Falklands conflict. The participants had suffered a broad spectrum of injuries including physical and psychological trauma.

The excavation work took place under the supervision of archaeologists from DIO, the Defence Archaeology Group and the University of Leicester, which supported the project. A group of students from the university also worked alongside the soldiers.

Caerwent Training Area covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres largely covered by woodland and industrial buildings. [Picture: Crown Copyright]
Caerwent Training Area covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres largely covered by woodland and industrial buildings. [Picture: Crown Copyright]
Other partners including Cadw – the Welsh Government’s historic environment service – and the Army’s survey unit, 135 Independent Geographic Squadron, helped to deliver the programme.

The excavation at Caerwent started on 24 March 2013 and involved a total of 18 soldiers working to uncover a stone building thought to date back to the 3rd or 4th Century CE.

Caerwent Training Area covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres largely covered by woodland and industrial buildings. Investigations which took place at the site last year uncovered Roman artefacts including coins and a hypocaust (a Roman heating system).

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