Operation Nightingale/Project Florence

Time Team at Barrow Clump

The excavation is now finished and the trenches are backfilled but the blog does not end here. Firstly we still have lots to report as we got a bit behind on reporting events on site.  Secondly we have the post excavation to report on over the coming months, as well as our film-making project and other Project Florence events.

Today, we have Phil Andrew's, Wessex Archaeology's Site Director, review of the penultimate week of the excavations. This week was a highlight because both the Time Team and the sun (eventually) made an appearance on site.

Another very busy week on site, with Time Team arriving Sunday afternoon and filming from Monday to Wednesday. Weather not great, but there were plenty of opportunities for some good footage of the ongoing excavations and several new discoveries.

615 Time Team on site recording Operation NIghtingale's progress

The Anglo-Saxon grave count now stands at 25 and we are fast running out of space to find further burials, which is good news with one week to go! Most burials have now been lifted, along with a variety of shield bosses, spears and knives accompanying the male burials - and brooches, beads and other personal items with the female burials. We have two graves left to deal with: a double burial in one grave which is currently being recorded and another which has produced an interesting range of finds – but more of that soon.

618 Jackie McKinley talking skeletons on camera with Tony Robinson

The Time Team trench on the northern side of the barrow identified the extent of the graveyard. We also found more of the Beaker ring-ditch in the centre of the mound, while a further section was excavated across the Early Bronze Age barrow ditch, along with a dense spread of contemporary flint knapping debris.

Following the departure of the Time Team – and a torrential downpour – the Summer arrived and we are now looking forward to enjoying a great week on site in a stunning location, with perhaps just one or two new discoveries to take us through to the end.

617 Our young filmakers got the opportunity to interview Tim Taylor


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

Expert Guide: Archaeological Layers

Dave Talks Trifle

In today’s video blog, Dave Murdie, an archaeologist for Wessex Archaeology, explains why archaeologists use sections to analyse archaeological layers, and how those layers are a bit like trifle.

This video clip was filmed and produced by Jo and Ethan, Project Florence Volunteers working towards their Arts Award as part of the Make a Movie project.

Find out more about the Make a Movie project at www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/film.

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

Young Archaeologists Club reporting

Today we had the South Wiltshire Young Archaeologist’s Club onsite, as one of our Project Florence events.  They were meant to come out before this to help with the excavations, but it was cancelled due to bad weather.

As a consolation, we invited them in their school holidays for a site visit, getting one last look at the site before it closes for this season.  This meant they could not get their hands dirty, we have a lot of recording to do before Saturday and new discoveries are no longer welcome.

605 Young Archaeologists asking lots of questions about the site

Instead, we got them filming, using our head camera, Ipad and working with the film-maker, Simon Davison. Simon was on site to film the lifting of one of the most significant burials we have found yet.  This skeleton belongs to a female, who had a considerable number of finds buried with her including a cosmetic brush, ring and beads.

The club members quizzed our CBA Community Archaeology Trainee, Angus Forshaw about what he was doing, as he lifted the skeleton. They also reported on events around the site and explained on camera about some of the discoveries.

606 Female Anglo-Saxon burial with grave goods

We will be showing of the results of their hard work soon.  Today, read about what Rebecca thought of the site, and view Harry talking about one of the discoveries made in the burial.

I’m Becca and I am 14.  I came to the site with YAC. We’ve been learning about the history of the site, which I think is really interesting.  I like the skeleton, which we filmed them lifting.  It is particularly great because of the finds we saw with the burial.  It is sites like this that make me want to get into archaeology as a career.


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


Barrow Clump: A Personal View

Today's blog has been written, by Jackie, a Project Florence volunteer who has known Barrow Clump for many years, and was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the Operation Nightingale excavation:

Barrow Clump, known locally as Ablington Clump or just ‘The Clump’ has been a significant land mark for many years. With its group of trees on a high location has meant it is unmissable for miles around, in fact it can clearly be seen from the A345 just before you get to the turning to Boscombe Down, driving from Salisbury. It is also very visible from my garden; I live less than half a mile away from the site!

I was brought up in Milston, less than a mile away and played with children from Figheldean, so would pass ‘The Clump’ regularly and play there too, as did most children growing up in the area (Figheldean, Ablington, Brigmerston and Milston).

With its great views overlooking Larkhill ranges to the west and Sidbury Hill (the highest point on Salisbury Plain) to the east, it has also proved to be a wonderful place to walk my dog, which I have done so often with my family and friends and their dogs too!

602 The view from Jackie's garden; Barrow Clump is visible towards the right of the picture

We thought ‘The Clump’ contained a single ‘burial mound’ or tumuli, we also knew it was surrounded by these too, although flattened by years of agriculture by various farmers over the years. Little did we know when we were walking and playing on that ground that there was, beneath our feet, perhaps a hundred ancient people who had been laying there undisturbed for thousands of years!

As a Parish Councillor for Figheldean, and having previously visited the site taking photographic records of Operation Nightingale for the Rifles Museum in Salisbury, where I am the Curator, I was very excited to be involved with Project Florence by organising villagers to visit the site so that they could see and learn for themselvesthe exciting finds that were being found.

604 Jackie's group of local residents being given a site tour by Phil Andrews

We are all in agreement that what is being found at Barrow Clump is absolutely fascinating, and made all the more interesting because of the injured soldiers that are being given the opportunity to take part in such a worthwhile and interesting project. Some of those soldiers that I have spoken are so excited about their rehabilitation project that they have expressed an interest in becoming archaeologists themselves!

Find out more about becoming a Project Florence volunteer at www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/volunteer

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


Make a Movie: Update

As the Make a Movie volunteers shoot their final film on site before the editing process begins, I chat to Ethan, one of the Project Florence volunteers, about his experiences so far:

To find out more about the Make a Movie project, click here.

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

Explore Archaeology Family Fun Day

On Saturday 21st July, Project Florence gave local residents the chance to explore archaeology at an open day on the Barrow Clump site.

Visitors were given tours of the trenches by the Op Nightingale soldiers and volunteers, and got to witness the excavation of an interesting Saxon burial containing a range of grave goods. Young guests crafted their own Saxon pottery, chatted to a Saxon warrior and dove enthusiastically into the sandpit digs!

There was also a display by Devizes Museum of replica Saxon artefacts to compare to our finds from the excavation, and flint knapping demonstrations by Phil Harding.

The day was a huge success with over 200 visitors to the site, who gave some excellent feedback: 

Brilliant. The amount of times we have walked here and never known what’s below us until now!

Excellent! Such an interesting day, well organised and informative. Well done!

It was good to hear from the soldiers how effective and beneficial this project has been.

601 Young visitors creating their own pottery to Saxon designs with Angus Forshaw, Wessex Archaeology

To find out how you can get involved in Project Florence visit www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/volunteer

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

Teaser Trailer

Our volunteer film-makers are still busy recording all our activities on site. Jamie McDine, one of the professional film-makers working with our trainees, has put together this trailer to show off some their work so far. 

Having watched the volunteers at work I have realised that it is all about finding the perfect shot and playing with ways to capture what is going on.  This trailer shows some of the interesting shots the volunteers have collected of the site.  

In the coming weeks the volunteers will get the opportunity to pull this film and their interviews together and create a story about what the site means to them.

With the school holidays starting we are still looking for a few more volunteers, if you are interested download the poster below.

Project Florence - Make a Movie this summer holiday

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

Expert Guide: Osteoarchaeology

Today’s blog has been written by Stef, an osteoarchaeologist (specialist in human remains) volunteering on Operation Nightingale, about one of the Saxon burials she has been excavating:

I am a commercial osteoarchaeologist and have spent several years working on archaeological sites and analysing human remains in the lab.  I first heard about Operation Nightingale from a friend and since I knew there were likely to be burials found at Barrow Clump I asked if it would be useful if I helped out.

585 Stef recording a skeleton at Barrow Clump

I have spent the last few days working with Mike excavating a grave which included several small finds.  We first uncovered the edges of the grave then slowly worked down to the level of the skeleton.  Once the outline of the skeleton was visible we used small tools and brushes to uncover each bone, before planning, photographing and carefully removing the skeleton. 

One of the first things to be uncovered was a shield boss, a circular metal object which would have formed the centre of a wooden shield.  Along with this we found iron fittings from the outside rim of the shield and objects which may have formed part of a belt, along with a short knife blade.

While these objects can tell us a lot about the material culture of the time period and population there is also a great deal of information which can be gained from studying the skeleton.  This is best done in a lab once the bones have been properly washed and laid out but there are some techniques which can be applied in the field. 


The skull of the skeleton was intact which allows us to establish the sex of the individual.  This skeleton was male which is evident from the large brow ridge above the eyes, the large and rough muscle attachments at the back of the skull and the large mastoid processes (an area just behind the ear which is an attachment site for muscles from the neck).  Another area we use to tell the sex of skeletons is the pelvis, which is adapted for child birth in females.  Unfortunately the pelvis was mostly destroyed in this burial so having the whole skull was very helpful.

We were also able to give an approximate age to the skeleton by looking at the fusion of the bones.  The bones of children start off as several smaller parts which gradually fuse into one as they get older.  The bones of this individual were completely fused; studies have shown that the end of the collar bone fuses from the age of 23 so we can say this individual is at least that old. 

We  also looked at the wear of the molar teeth of the individual to give and indication of age: this technique works on the basis that small pieces of grit would have been present in food from grinding corn and other similar methods of food preparation.  This wears down the teeth over the life of the individual.  A quick look at the teeth of the lower jaw indicates this individual was in his early to mid thirties.  Once the skeleton is cleaned and in the lab we may be able to use additional techniques to confirm his age.  It might also be possible to find out if he suffered from any illnesses or injuries during his lifetime.

586 Stef shows the skull to an enthusiastic school group

The skeletons can also be tested for clues on where the individuals came from.  This technique known as isotopic analysis works by examining the chemical makeup of teeth.  Teeth form very early in an individual’s life and the chemical content of tooth enamel is affected by the type of water drunk early in life; e.g. water which has come from a chalky area has a different chemical signature than water which has come from a granite area.  Isotopic analysis would allow us to find out if the individuals buried at Barrow Clump were born in the area or had travelled a long way before they were buried here.

The chance to join the excavations with Operation Nightingale has been a great experience for me and has allowed me to experience some amazing archaeology.  I have really enjoyed working with the soldiers and have been impressed with the amount of skills which archaeology and the army share; not something I had realised before.  I am really glad I was able to be involved in the project which I think has given everyone involved a great experience.

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

Operation Nightingale Out and About

It hasn’t been all work and no play for Op Nightingale; the soldiers have been exploring the local area to learn more about life in Saxon Wiltshire. Jake, a Rifleman, spoke to Honor, a Project Florence volunteer, about what he’s been getting up to in today’s video blog. Click on the link below to watch:

To find out more about Operation Nightingale visit www.opnightingale.co.uk

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

Congratulations to the Award-Winning Operation Nightingale

Last week, the ground-breaking work of Operation Nightingale was recognised at the British Archaeological Awards.
The British Archaeological Awards are a showcase for the best in UK archaeology. They aim to advance public education and best practice in archaeology through the granting of awards for excellence and initiative. The 2012 ceremony was held at the British Museum in London and was also the launch event for this year’s Festival of British Archaeology.
Operation Nightingale was presented with a Special British Archaeological Award in recognition of the project’s innovative use of archaeology to aid the recovery of injured soldiers. The national award was collected by Richard Osgood and Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, the creators of the project, with Cpl Steve Winterton of 1 Rifles.
To find out more about Op Nightingale’s award click here.
Find out more about the British Archaeological Awards at http://www.britarch.ac.uk/awards/
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