Soldiers on the award winning Operation Nightingale discover a Saxon spear, shield and burials

One of over 60 skeletons unearthed in the Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon burial ground [Credit : Crown copyright]

An award-winning project which uses archaeology to aid the recovery of injured soldiers is continuing its success on Salisbury Plain – unearthing a range of Anglo-Saxon treasures on the military training area.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) worked with The Rifles to create the unique and hugely successful programme, known as Operation Nightingale, which helps soldiers injured in Afghanistan return to their regiment or prepare for civilian life.


The project also helps the Ministry Of Defence (MOD) fulfil its statutory obligations and has been recognised by the British Archaeological Awards for its innovation. It receives considerable funding from Care for Casualties, the Rifles Appeal which supports wounded Riflemen.

Operation Nightingale is currently in its second of three stages of excavation work at Barrow Clump. Current work centres around a Saxon cemetery dating back to the 6th Century AD.

So far objects unearthed include a spear, shield, gold leaf brooches and beads. The team has also uncovered around eighteen skeletons thought to be men, women and children from the Anglo Saxon period.

DIO and Defence Archaeology Group worked with The Rifles and a number of other units to give injured Military Personnel the opportunity to learn a series of excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques.


The soldiers, who join the programme voluntarily, also produce a report of their findings which helps enhance their publication and presentation skills.

Some of the finds discovered so far during excavations of Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain [Credit : Crown copyright]
Some of the finds discovered at Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain [Credit : Crown copyright]

Dave Hart, a newly qualified primary school teacher, formerly from 6 Rifles, said:

“I have always had an interest in archaeology, so I jumped at the chance to be involved in this project. Not only does the project give me the opportunity to get involved in something really interesting, it also enables me to get back into a military style environment and be back working with soldiers.

“The camaraderie between the volunteers on the site here is phenomenal – we work hard during the day and utilise our skills for the benefit of the project but we also get the opportunity to socialise and have some fun.

“Volunteering here has also benefited me in my job. I’ve been able to take my hands on experiences and share them with the children at the school I teach in – it really excites and enthuses them and there’s nothing better than personal stories to getting children really interested in subjects and bring topics to life.”

The latest dig follows on from the first excavation last year which saw soldiers taking part discovering 27 bodies – including Anglo-Saxon warriors – buried with a range of personal possessions and artefacts including shield bosses, guilded brooches, amber and glass beads, spear heads, a silver ring, and a wooden drinking vessel with bronze bands. Objects unearthed at the dig will be deposited in Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes

Co-directed by DIO’s Senior Historic Advisor Richard Osgood and Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, of Royal Army Medical Core (RAMC), the project draws in assistance from partners including Wessex Archaeology and Cranfield University.

Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, RAMC said:

“What we’re doing here is providing a recovery activity where we bring together serving soldiers and veterans who have been injured. We can help to rebuild their self-esteem and provide them with a sense of purpose.

“The key to the success of the project is that we undertake lots of different activities, from digging to surveying, photography, finds processing and other hands on activities. The dig also provides the opportunity to get engaged and involved in a project that adds real value to the military estate.

“Additionally one of our objectives is to give something back to the local community. The local community around Salisbury Plain have shown amazing support for the project and worked along side our service personnel while we have been here.”

Richard Osgood said:

“DIO’s priority is to support our Armed Forces and this project continues to be a great success. Over the past few months the team of volunteers has unearthed several more skeletons and various artefacts including 6th Century brooches and glass beads. Although the Bronze Age and Anglo Saxon burial ground is relatively small we have already unearthed over 60 skeletons.

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Op Nightingale volunteers Barrow Clump has now been put firmly on the archaeological map. This is thanks to the hard work of the serving soldiers and ex soldiers from the British Armed Forces.”

Phil Andrews, Project Manager at Wessex Archaeology said:

“The archaeology project here at Barrow Clump is different in that it offers more than just the opportunity to dig. It allows the soldiers the chance to learn about various parts of archaeology such as recording, planning and drawing. Everyone finds a role that suits them and each has a useful part to play.

“The project also offers the soldiers far more than a ‘normal’ archaeological dig in that it enables them to build and develop their social and personal skills, something which is special and rather unique to this project.”


The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) is part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It is responsible for managing and maintaining land and properties to meet the current and future needs of the MOD and personnel at home and abroad, and to support current operations.

Defence Archaeology Group has been set up to help oversee Operation Nightingale, to help harness and raise the awareness of service personal in matters connected with archaeology and heritage. For more information visit

Contributing Source : Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO)

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Markus Milligan
Markus Milligan
Mark Milligan is an award winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education and the BCA Medal of Honour.




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