A recent excavation in Tidworth, of a 1300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery, was visited by wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans from the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House. Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology showed them the work in progress and some of the finds from the site, as well as discussing their significance.
The cemetery, comprising around 55 burials and of late 7th- to early 8th-century date, was discovered ahead of building works associated with a £70 million housing development, to provide 322 new homes for Army families, by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) in partnership with Hill, an award-winning housebuilder.
Preliminary results suggest that the burials represent a cross-section of a local community, with men, women and children all present. Nearly all the burials included grave goods – personal effects or significant items interred with the dead. Most commonly these were small iron knives, although other finds included combs and pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins thought to form necklaces, several spearheads, a shield boss and a finely decorated bronze workbox.
Many of the visitors from Tedworth House had previous experience of archaeology through Operation Nightingale, a ground-breaking military initiative which uses the technical and social aspects of field archaeology to aid the recovery and skill development of service personnel and veterans who have been injured in conflict. This has included the excavation of a 6th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Barrow Clump, Figheldean, in partnership with Wessex Archaeology.
Richard Bennett, formerly of 40 Commando, who spent 17 years with the Marines serving four tours of Afghanistan, and also served in Iraq and Northern Ireland, said,
“I naturally jumped at the chance to take part [in the visit] and it was a good opportunity to compare and contrast some of the graves at this site to some of the graves that we had been excavating over several years at Barrow Clump, which is not too far away and dates to a similar period."
“This visit gave me personally the opportunity to reflect on just how far I had come over the 5 years since my first experience of archaeology at Barrow Clump. Since then I have progressed from an occasional volunteer with Operation Nightingale, to getting a Degree in Archaeology and have now taken over responsibility for enhancing the veterans experience not just in archaeology but in heritage in general through Breaking Ground Heritage. This is a project set up and run by veterans, for veterans, in order to help those who are wounded, injured and sick through some of the challenges that they face. They do it alongside people of a similar nature and outlook on life. I know through personal experience how taking part in heritage can help your recovery pathway.”
Ryan Harris, Project Director at Hill, commented,
“The area has a fantastically rich history and the recent archaeological excavation really brings this to life. As with any development, we are working hard to protect and record these important findings for posterity. Tidworth is quickly becoming one of our most fascinating projects, and it is great to be creating homes for Service personnel – something the whole team is very proud to be working on.”
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