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Operation Nightingale Combines Archaeology and Healing for Injured Soldiers

October 1, 2016.  Injured soldiers from the UK are working together with archaeologists and students to excavate an ancient Late Roman/Byzantine harbor at a Royal Air Force Base in southern Cyprus. The project is part of Operation Nightingale, a field operation program run military style, designed both to accomplish archaeological goals and promote healing among the injured soldiers who form an intrinsic part of the team. The soldiers working with the archaeologists are in-service personnel who have experienced debilitating physical or psychological injuries. The soldiers are expected to learn excavation, archaeological surveying, and processing artifacts in this supportive environment, and to be part of public outreach on the island. The archaeological students in past programs have stressed that they also learn from the military service personnel, who contribute mapping and surveying skills, and are adept at living and working in the field.

The UK’s most active operational RAF base is located at Dreamer’s Bay on Cyprus’ Akrotiri peninsula. Because the ancient harbor site is within a British military base, it has been well-protected from human intervention and not subject to the tourism and business development along the Cypriot coast. The primary threat to the site has been the wave action that has damaged the harbor buildings during winter storms. The site contains not only the bases of several large buildings but also ancient quarries and rock-cut tombs.

What is now a peninsula was an island in ancient times, but the channel separating it from the mainland has silted up, so it is now connected by sandbars. The harbor originally served the ancient city of Kourion, 13 kilometers away, which was destroyed in an earthquake on 365 CE. The harbor is thought to have acted as a Mediterranean trading port up until at least the 7th century CE, when it could have succumbed to raids from the increasingly powerful Arab coastal pirates.

The team in Cyprus is led by project director Professor Simon James and field director Ms. Vicki Score and supported with staff from the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and professional field archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). The Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities has given its blessing to the project, which is given immediate logistical support through the RAF Akrotiri’s Station Commander, in partnership with the UK’s Defence Archaeology Group (DAG), a voluntary body of current and reserve military personnel with interests in archaeology.

Op Nightingale” exercises have also taken place in the UK, including at East Chisenbury Midden in Wiltshire and Caerwent in South Wales.

Operation Nightingale has won the prestigious British Archaeology Award. It was originally conceived by archaeologist (and former infantryman) Diarmaid Walshe, while he was serving as medical sergeant with the 1st Rifles in Afghanistan.

The program has been so successful that a degree program in archaeology at the University of Leicester has been established that offers both on site and distance learning for military personnel.

Images: Military personnel involved in Operation Nightingale proudly display their British Archaeological Award [Picture: Corporal Kellie Williams RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012] A soldier injured in Afghanistan carefully surveys and records Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon deposits found during the excavation of Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain [Picture: Corporal Kellie Williams RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012

Images by Corporal Kellie Williams, RLC. Defence Infrastructure Organisation Media and Communications Kingston Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B75 7RL Tel: 0121 311 3879 Fax: 0121 311 3809 PRESS RELEASE Date: 11 July 2012 Award-winning soldiers’ recovery project continues to break new ground An award-winning project using archaeology to aid the recovery of soldiers from The Rifles injured on Operation Herrick continues its success on Salisbury Plain. ‘Operation Nightingale’ has this week received a special award from the British Archaeological Awards in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of military personnel injured in Afghanistan. This unique, and hugely successful, programme continues with investigations into the Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon deposits at Barrow Clump. Soldiers are excavating material, including Saxon grave goods, moved by badgers who have constructed their setts on the prehistoric monument. The soldiers have helped uncover the remains of a sixth century Anglo-Saxon female. 'Davina', as they have named the woman is believed to have died in her late teens to early 20s. She appears to have been a person of note, as she was buried in what would have been a prestigious burial site. They have also found the remains of an Anglo-Saxon male, who was buried with a bronze shield. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) worked with The Rifles to create this opportunity for the soldiers to learn a series of excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques and also enhancing their publication and presentation skills. Eight soldiers are moving on to study archaeology at Leicester University, thanks to the programme. Co-directed by Richard Osgood, of DIO, and Sgt Diarmaid Walshe, of 1 Rifles, the project draws in assistance from partners including English Heritage, Wessex Archaeology and the Army’s survey unit,135 Geo

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