Operation Nightingale is an innovative program designed to help soldiers learn new skills while recovering from injuries. The soldiers, who had been wounded in Afghanistan, were performing a routine excavation to learn the techniques of archaeology. Instead, they turned up something more significant and, for them, meaningful: a warrior like themselves, buried 1400 years ago.
Mike Kelly, from 1 Rifles, found a skeleton with its head covered by a shield. He believes the position was a sign of respect to a fallen warrior. “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.”
Other finds at Barrow Clump, on Salisbury Plain – which is speckled with thousands of ancient monuments around Stonehenge – included shield bosses, spear heads, a Roman brooch, hundreds of amber and glass beads, and a silver ring, alongside the remains of 27 individuals.
The site is believed be a cemetery, created by the Anglo Saxons within an already ancient burial monument, a Bronze Age barrow dating from 2,000BC. Excavation of the area was deemed essential because it was being damaged by burrowing badgers, leaving small bones and artefacts scattered on the surface.
The soldiers were so affected by the experience that they plan to continue their studies in archaeology.