Operation Nightingale/Project Florence

Young Archaeologists Visit Old Sarum

October's Playing with the Past club meeting took the form of a site visit to Old Sarum. This visit was organised in association with English Heritage and the Army Welfare Service.

The 8-16 year olds learnt how to fight like Vikings, dressed up as Medieval knights and handled archaeological artefacts from the local area. The visit, led by English Heritage staff, introduced the group to the various uses of the site throughout history and explored the role of archaeology in teaching us these things.

657 Playing with the Past members dressing up as Medieval knights at Old Sarum

This FREE club will be held on the third Saturday of each month at the Beeches Community Centre in Bulford. Meetings will cover a range of interesting archaeological topics and periods and feature hands-on activities and games.

To find out more about the Playing with the Past club and details of the next meeting click here.

To return to the main Project Florence blog click here.

Processing Update

Project Florence volunteers have been doing a fantastic job on the post-excavation processing from the Barrow Clump excavation. Angus Forshaw has summarised their progress so far for the blog:

Following the specialist training received last month our volunteers have been making carefully processing the human remains and grave samples from Barrow Clump. 

Excellent progress has been made into the washing of human remains, with nearly half of the skeletons having been fully cleaned.  These have included large well preserved skeletons as well as more delicate, root damaged individuals that have really tested our volunteers’ cleaning skills. Once all the skeletons have been cleaned and the bones have dried they will be analysed by osteoarchaeologists at Wessex Archaeology, who may be able to determine the age and sex of the individuals, as well as any diseases they might have suffered from.

Sample sieving has also proved an enlightening experience, teaching us not just about the process itself but about the importance of field recording. The significance of sampling graves during excavation was proved last week when not only bone fragments but also beads were discovered within samples from one grave context.

649 Beads discovered by volunteers wet sieving a grave sample

Some of these beads were made of glass and appeared to consist of three small beads joined together. Along with the glass beads there were a number of amber beads found in the sieved sample. These amber beads were the same as those found accompanying the skeleton during its excavation. Whilst the exact position of the beads in relation to the body is unknown, these beads indicate that a necklace or decorated item of clothing probably accompanied the skeleton at its burial.

The discovery of these beads has not only added to our understanding of the grave but also provided our volunteers with the euphoric moment of ‘finding’; much deserved after all their hard work.

650 Project Florence volunteers discovering beads in a grave sample

Find out how you can get involved by clicking here.

To return to the main Project Florence blog click here.

Tree Graffiti on Barrow Clump

Project Florence volunteers Kathy and Roger identified some interesting tree graffiti when working out on site at Barrow Clump. As a keen members of the Bulford Conservation Society, they recorded these pictures and messages, known as arborglyphs, and wrote about them for our blog:

Arborglyphs are pictures, words or numbers carved on tree trunks. They are most commonly carved on beech, lime, or aspen trees because of their smooth bark and are created using a bayonet or some form of knife. Those found around Salisbury Plain have so far been found on beech trees.

The arborglyphs found at Barrow Clump include pictures (an eagle and a phoenix like creature), names and dates. These arborglyphs are all military based and made by soldiers possibly when on exercise. The earliest dated to 1916/17 and were carved by the New Zealand Imperial Forces, who were probably based near the Kiwi at Bulford Camp. Arborglyphs are a useful tool for archaeologists and local historians, as messages can be as old as 250 years, at which age beech trees reach maturity.  

645 Arborglyphs at Barrow Clump

Dan Miles from English Heritage, and two members of the Bulford Conservation Group surveyed and recorded the arborglyphs at Barrow Clump during the Operation Nightingale excavation. When recording, there may be more than one arborglyph per tree, so we begin by attempting to separate each message from the others. The letters/numbers of each message are written down on the recording sheet and then the complete arborglyph is measured and photographed. The tree is identified by a photograph which includes a measuring rod, and its circumference is also measured. Some of the markings may have deteriorated but these are photographed too as sometimes the letters/numbers may be clearer on the photograph. Civilian arborglyphs are also found, usually in the form of a romantic message e.g. John loves Jane, and may include a date. It is sometimes possible to find information about the names on the trees through further research.

646 Kathy teaches members of the Young Archaeologists' Club about the Barrow Clump arborglyphs

To return to the main Project Florence blog click here.

The Rotten Romans

The Rotten Romans were the theme of the second Playing with the Past archaeology club meeting, held at the Beeches Community Centre in Bulford. The budding young archaeologists dressed up in Roman outfits to learn about life in the Roman Empire and local archaeology, to explore ancient artefacts and to build a working hypocaust system out of shoe boxes.

641 Learning about Roman clothes and accessories

This FREE club will be held every third Saturday of each month at the Beeches Community Centre in Bulford. Meetings will cover a range of interesting archaeological topics and periods and feature hands-on activities and games.

The next Playing with the Past club will be on Saturday 20th October and will be a site visit to Old Sarum. Transport from the Beeches will be provided and both transport and entry will be free. Find out more by clicking here.

To return to the main Project Florence blog click here.

Let the Processing Begin!

While Phil Andrews and Angus Forshaw are busy going over the paperwork from the Barrow Clump excavation, I have the far more exciting job of recruiting and working with volunteers to process the mountains of artefacts, human remains and grave samples from the dig.

Members of the local communities were able to learn more about the opportunities on offer at a volunteer consultation meeting on 28th August. At this meeting, I encouraged people to have their say about the direction of the project and the final exhibition and spoke about the post-excavation processing activities that need to be done, which include washing human remains, washing and marking other artefacts and wet sieving grave samples.

638 Speaking at the Volunteer Consultation Meeting

The response from volunteers, inspired by the Operation Nightingale excavation, has been fantastic. The group has started work this week with initial training sessions led by specialists from Wessex Archaeology. On Monday we learnt how to process human remains under the guidance of Sue Nelson, Finds Supervisor, and Jackie McKinley, Senior Osteoarchaeologist. On Tuesday we were shown the ropes for sieving grave samples by Nicki Mulhall, Environmental Processing Supervisor.

Dan, one of the Project Florence volunteers who had the opportunity to dig at Barrow Clump, has described his experiences of washing human remains for the blog:

Having been used to digging, I found it really interesting to take things to the next level by washing the finds and giving them some context. Using water, toothbrushes and cocktail sticks I worked on the left leg, hand and upper right arm bone of a male Saxon warrior. The process was quite humbling and the utmost care needed to be taken, not only to preserve the evidence but also to show respect. I felt this was a very rewarding exercise and look forward to working more with stones and bones!

639 Nicki explains how to sieve the grave samples

Volunteer sessions will be held on Mondays and Tuesdays at the Wessex Archaeology offices and are open to anyone over the age of 16 who would like to get involved. If you are interested in coming along please contact Laura Joyner, Project Florence Officer, on 01722 326867 or at l.joyner@wessexarch.co.uk.

Find out more about our volunteering opportunities by clicking here.

Return to the main Project Florence blog by clicking here.

Life After the Clump

Although the excavation at Barrow Clump has finished, work on the results continues behind the scenes. Angus Forshaw, Community Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, reports on what he has been doing and the next steps of the project:

It has been just over a month since we finished excavations at Barrow Clump for 2012. Many of you are probably wondering what has been happening in this time regarding all the fantastic archaeology that we discovered on site.

Following the excavation, most of us here at Wessex took a short holiday - a much deserved rest as well as time to reacclimatise for a return to the real world. Then it was back to the archaeology, though this time instead of excavating features it has involved going through the mountain of paperwork and drawings produced during the dig, accurately recording all that was uncovered. I have been cross-referencing the various site registers to make sure everything matches up to ensure that during the hive of activity that was the excavation, everything has been recorded correctly.

637 Angus cross-referencing records back at the office

This has actually been a thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the work for me, as it has put the whole site into perspective. During the excavation it is easy to miss the big picture when you are so focused on your own area of work.

The next stage of work will involve the writing up of our findings in an Interim Report, explaining the archaeology that we have uncovered so far. As well as this, there will be some post-excavation work involving the cleaning of finds and human bone and sieving through grave samples taken during the excavation. This will be open to local volunteers and will hopefully turn up some interesting results.

Find out more about the post-excavation activities and how you can get involved by clicking here.

To return to the main project blog click here.

Playing with the Past

Project Florence’s Playing with the Past archaeology club got off to a great start last Saturday with an interactive Introduction to Archaeology workshop. The 8-16 year olds learnt about the life of an archaeologist, became artefact detectives and even had a go at digging up some finds. Meanwhile, parents had the chance to relax and chat over a cup of tea and some biscuits.

635 The young archaeologists excavated and examined ancient artefacts

This FREE club will be held every third Saturday of each month at the Beeches Community Centre in Bulford. Meetings will cover a range of interesting archaeological topics and periods and feature hands-on activities and games.

The next Playing with the Past club will be on Saturday 15th September and will be about The Rotten Romans! Find out more by clicking here.

To return to the main Project Florence blog click here.

Phil's Final Round-Up

Phil Andrews, Site Director at Barrow Clump, summed up the highlights of the final week of excavation for us when the site closed down three weeks ago:

Well, we didn’t find a grave on the final day, but we discovered one Saxon burial on Wednesday and another on Thursday – Richard Osgood was recovering disarticulated bone from a badger burrow … and found a foot that wasn’t disarticulated! Anyway, this all ensured that interest and excitement was maintained right up to the end and gave us a final tally of 27 burials. It also meant that instead of a relaxed weekend tidying up loose ends we had a rather busier one, but thanks to everyone who came in and helped we did have a relatively comfortable day on Monday packing up and backfilling.

The grave mentioned last week with an interesting group of finds continued to produce more material. An adult female in possibly a plank-lined grave was accompanied by one of the smallest square-headed brooches ever seen, two button brooches, a cosmetic brush, and a range of amber, crystal and glass beads, including over 50 minute green glass examples.

630 The skull of the female grave in Trench 3, showing the position of the tiny square-headed brooch

We also took the opportunity to expose more of the Beaker ring-ditch below the centre of the Early Bronze Age barrow mound and, to our surprise, showed that there had been a stake- or post circle constructed on the site of the Beaker monument before the barrow was built.

Apart from finishing excavating and lifting the last of the burials we also had quite a lot of recording to catch up with. However, by the time we left all the context sheets had been completed and everything drawn and photographed.

631 Angus Forshaw, Community Archaeologist, recording the female grave in Trench 3

The end on Monday came too quickly and after six busy and exciting weeks it was rather sad to see the excavation trenches backfilled, the last of the tents taken down and everyone departed. However, we’ve now started work on preparing an interim report on the 2012 excavation and are looking forward to the possibility of a further Operation Nightingale project at Barrow Clump in 2013 to investigate more of this exceptional site.

It just leaves me to thank everyone, particularly soldiers and also civilians, for everything they did in contributing to such a successful excavation project and hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.


To return to the main Project Florence blog, www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/blog, click here

Make a Movie: Talking to Tony

Now that the dig has come to an end, the Make a Movie volunteers are hard at work whittling down the 30+ hours of footage and editing it to make the final movie.

To give us a taster of what is to come, Jamie McDine, one of the professional filmmakers, has produced a short video for us taken from an interview with Tony Robinson.

625 Tony Robinson with Shane, the lucky Make a Movie volunteer who got to interview him

Click on the video link below to watch the clip, and keep following the blog for more teaser trailers.

To return to the main Project Florence blog, www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/blog, click here.

Soldiers on Salisbury Plain celebrate historical discovery

An award-winning project using archaeology to aid the recovery of soldiers injured on Operation HERRICK has concluded its success on Salisbury Plain with an astonishing treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon finds.

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, broaches, 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 Core (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.

619 Rifleman Mike Kelly. 1 RIFLES, with an Anglo-Saxon gold leaf button broach discovered on site. (c) Crown Copyright

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.

620 Private Harry Buxton excavates the body of an Anglo-Saxon woman. (C) Crown Copyright

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.


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