Operation Nightingale/Project Florence

Phil's Round-Up: Week 2

At the end of our second week at Barrow Clump our Site Director, Phil Andrews, sums up the archaeology so far for our blog readers:


Week 2 is coming to a close and the large ditch of the Bronze Age barrow is going down fast, thanks to a great effort by everyone. Following the first Saxon grave excavated at the end of last week a further seven have now been revealed, all but one within or close to the edge of the prehistoric ditch. Significantly, two of the graves lie outside of the ring-ditch showing, as we suspected, that there may be a significant number of burials to the south of the barrow.


510 Phil excavating the ring-ditch with Rifleman Michael


Three of the new graves have been excavated, carefully cleaned and are now being photographed and drawn before they are lifted. The skeletons within them have suffered from varying degrees of disturbance by badgers, and one has the skull missing - though many of the other of the bones survive. However, the most surprising thing is that none of the burials so far have included grave goods - other than a single small iron buckle … we fully expect things to change next week!


511 Phil photographing a badger-disturbed burial


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Expert Guide: Archaeobotanical Evidence for Diet in the Saxon Period

What did people eat in Anglo-Saxon times? Operation Nightingale soldiers got the chance to find out yesterday.  Ruth Pelling, Senior Archaeobotanist for English Heritage visited the site and discussed archaeobotanical evidence for diet in the Saxon period. Excitingly, Ruth has also very kindly provided an introduction to this topic for our blog readers:


The lack of detailed historical evidence for diet in the early and mid-Saxon period is such that we must rely on archaeological evidence for dietary reconstruction. 

Plant remains on archaeological sites are generally preserved by charring (being burnt), in waterlogged deposits and as calcium phosphate mineralised remains, particularly characteristic of cess pits or sewage deposits and some middens (domestic waste deposits). The relatively robust cereal grain, associated processing by products (tough chaff parts and weed seeds), pulses and occasionally fruit stones and nut shell, tend to characterise charred deposits.

Mineralised remains can provide direct evidence for diet (digested seeds and seed testa including contaminating weed seeds and medicinal species) while waterlogged deposits can preserve evidence for the fleshy, leafy parts of plants which would not normally survive included discarded food waste and vegetation growing within or around the sampled feature. 




Evidence for the diet in the early Saxon period remains scarce, although charred remains consistently include bread wheat, barley, with some oats and rye, occasional pulses and wild fruit and nuts.

By the mid- to Late Saxon period the rise in urban environments such as Hamwic (Southampton), London, York and Winchester and associated build up of urban waste has resulted in a comprehensive list of plant remains used in daily life. Field or broad beans, peas and cereal bran, consistently present in cess pits, were evidently prominent in the diet. A range of fruits (plum, sloe, apple, blackberry, raspberry, wild strawberry) and nuts (particularly hazelnut), and occasionally spices and flavourings such as mustard seeds, linseed or cultivated poppy, are recognised on both rural and urban sites.

The population of major mid- and late Saxon settlements such as Hamwic and London enjoyed a much more diverse diet including grape, fig, cumin, fennel, coriander, dill, watercress, lovage, cress, medlar fruit, mulberry and possibly lentils, quince and gooseberries as well as medicinal species including cannabis.


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My Day with Project Florence

Sue, the first Project Florence volunteer, tells us about why she wanted to volunteer and how she got on:


As an Australian, the opportunity to be part of an archaeological dig has never been open to me so my experience is nil but my enthusiasm is boundless.   You would think then that my coming to Britain was to have this opportunity.  WRONG!!  I came for a completely different reason but being aware of Wessex Archaeology and their work I decided I would volunteer my services in the typing up of reports for others so that it would give the people who really knew  what they were doing the opportunity to go out and do the “hands on” stuff. 


Imagine my surprise when I was offered the opportunity to actually take part – I had honestly not thought that it would be an option.  And on such a fantastic project; the aim of Operation Nightingale in rehabilitating injured soldiers is a most worthwhile one. 


Not only have I the been able to be on site, and even had the chance to wield a brand new trowel, there was the excitement of knowing that the site was already revealing Anglo Saxon burials -  one of which was actually uncovered in my presence.  What a moment that was!

Want to volunteer? Check out our volunteer opportunities at www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/volunteer.

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

Operation Nightingale at Barrow Clump

Corporal Steve Winterton, an experienced Operation Nightingale participant, shares his experiences of the Barrow Clump excavation so far:


I have been part of Operation Nightingale since the project was first started in September last year. During this time I have been on excavations in East Chisenbury, Folkestone and Caerwent, and now I am on the Barrow Clump excavation, which will be my longest so far.


We have been here for a week and settled in well, with the first skeleton being found by myself. Being able to excavate it with the help of Jackie McKinley was a great learning experience, not just for me but for the whole dig team. Being shown the process, step by step, has given me the confidence and knowledge that I need to excavate burials on my own, and to teach others.


497 Corporal Winterton recording a burial at Barrow Clump


Return to main blog and project website www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk, click here.

At the weekend

It is the weekend, but it is still all go.  On Saturday, members of Operation Nightingale, Wessex Archaeology staff and soldiers were still busy on site.

Meanwhile at Salisbury Arts Centre training continued for our young film-makers.  This is the final training session before they get out on site and new skills are put to the test.  Sarah Phillips, Project Florence Manager, got the opportunity to meet some of the volunteers after their Saturday session.

It was great to see how enthusiastic the volunteers are about creating their own film.  Today, they learnt about all the things they need to consider to get a good shot.  For example, a wise piece of advice they told me was don't get the giggles - your film will be shaky.  I imagine they leant this from experience.

The group of film-makers working with the volunteers are brilliant at getting them to think about what they are doing.  Salisbury Arts Centre is the perfect venue for this element of our project and I am already excited about premiering the film there later on this year.

This week starts on-site filming and I am looking forward to seeing what our new film-makers think of the site and the archaeology.  Hopefully there will be some exciting discoveries  to record.


Aged 14 to 25?  It is no too late to get involved.  Find out more on our volunteer webpages www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/film.


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Week 1: The Story So Far

At the end of the first week on site Phil Andrews, Project Manager, sums up the excavation so far:


We’re now almost at the end of week one and the site is proving to be every bit as exciting as anticipated. Last friday camp was set up and we were looking in anticipation at a nettle-covered mound. A week later the excavation is in full swing, despite the occasional unseasonal shower (?!), and we are looking forward to the possibility of spending three summers here.


The site has been stripped (with the help of a machine), the ditch and central mound of the Bronze Age barrow revealed, and our first Saxon burials are being investigated. A single disc brooch is the most exciting find so far but more graves and many more finds are expected in the forthcoming weeks.


495 Phil gives his week 1 round up talk to the team

Return to main blog and project website www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk, click here.

Excavating Skeletons

There was excitement all round today at the discovery of our first Anglo-Saxon burial. The grave cut was clearly defined against the natural chalky ground, in spite of the considerable damage done to the area by badger activity.

Jackie McKinley, Senior Osteoarchaeologist for Wessex Archaeology, came down to the site to take a look and to teach us about the proper excavation of human remains.




Jackie talked us through the skeleton recording sheets and gave us her top tips for burial excavation. These included keeping the edges and sides of the grave spotlessly clean as you work down, and using the right equipment for the job. Jackie’s tools of choice include a small brush, a dental tool and a spoon.




To return to the main Operation Nightingale/Project Florence blog and website, click here.

Project Florence Goes Digital

One of our key aims for Project Florence is to make the project accessible to as many people as possible. We have decided that the best way to do this is to use social media, so we’ve been swotting up on gadgets and getting to grips with social media.

Tweet us

The best way to find out the latest news as it happens is to follow @WAFlorence on Twitter. Tweets will be posted live from site by the Project Florence team and our volunteers, 3G allowing!




Subscribe to the blog

Keen readers of this blog will be pleased to hear that it will be regularly updated throughout the project, not only with text and pictures, but also with video clips and audio podcasts taken on site. We can’t wait to get going with our new head camera and podcaster!


Like us on Facebook

Project Florence is broadcasting on Facebook through the Wessex Archaeology page. Have you say by commenting on our posts and don’t forget to share anything you like with your friends.


Go to www.florence.opnightingale.co.uk/blog for all our news.

Ready, Set, Dig!

The excavation is now well underway! Inspired by their visit to Devizes Museum yesterday, the soldiers were eager to get stuck in. The team was given an induction and site tour by Project Manager Phil Andrews, Wessex Archaeology, before diving into the trenches to learn some excavation skills.

The Riflemen are making good progress clearing the topsoil and finds so far include bones, bullets and several tin cans. The highlight of the day came when Sam Nord, an MA student, uncovered a possible Anglo-Saxon brooch.

Sam described how she found the brooch:

In the process of cleaning an area highlighted by our metal detector in Trench 2, I noticed an artefact just one or two centimetres below the surface cleared by the digger the day before. Once I had carefully excavated the artefact I could see that it looked like a brooch, about 3cm in diameter. Around the edge is a barely visible notched pattern and on the surface are small concentric circles. The corrosion on the brooch indicates a copper alloy face, with an iron clasp on the back.


Project Florence Begins

Today was our first day on site and amazingly it was a sunny one. Whilst the soldiers went out for the day to learn more about Anglo-Saxon life and death the archaeologists were busy setting out the trenches and stripping off the topsoil.


The Army News Team was on hand to catch the action and their film of the project will appear on the army website (http://www.army.mod.uk/) later this week.

481 Rifleman Savage being interviewed by the Army News Team

The focus of this year’s excavation will be the areas between the trenches dug by English Heritage in 2003 and 2004. Follow this blog to find out how the dig progresses. 

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