The veterans are taking part in the excavation of Boles Barrow, which dates back to the Neolithic period, under a programme called Operation Nightingale. This award-winning scheme sees wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans taking part in archaeological digs on the Defence estate. The participants are guided by professional archaeologists from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which manages the MOD’s land and buildings, as well as partner organisations, which in the case of the Boles Barrow excavation includes private archaeology company Wessex Archaeology.
Dr Murrison, himself a Royal Navy veteran and a member of the Royal Navy Reserve, visited the excavation on Monday 27 March and was briefed on the project by DIO Senior Archaeologist Richard Osgood. As Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Dr Murrison talked to the participants about their experiences and how taking part in the excavation helps them.
Boles Barrow is a Neolithic long barrow excavated three times in the 19th Century with few surviving records. These excavations found prehistoric combat victims, and it is thought that a bluestone given to Salisbury Museum by Siegfried Sassoon may have emerged during these original investigations. The participants hope to find bluestone chips, which would be incredibly significant given proximity to Stonehenge. Bluestone is a term used to refer to some of the stones used in Stonehenge, but bluestone originates in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire and is not found naturally locally.
This excavation will also examine the effectiveness of a meshing programme DIO has been running for over a decade on Scheduled Monuments, considering the longevity of the types of protective covering and thus its efficacy.
Dr Andrew Murrison, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said:
It was great to meet the veterans taking part in this innovative and award-winning programme. Using archaeological excavations to help veterans and allow them to spend time together has clear benefit and this is a programme I wholly support.
Richard Osgood, DIO Senior Archaeologist, who is leading the excavation, said:
It was a pleasure to explain Operation Nightingale and its success to the Minister, and introduce him to our participants. We are hopeful that the excavation of Boles Barrow will help deepen our understanding of the Neolithic landscape of Salisbury Plain. On a practical level, it has already demonstrated that our method of installing mesh to protect certain sites from burrowing animals is a success.
The excavation commenced on 20 March 2023 and has already identified flint tools, a Roman coin and pot rim, and some sarsen.