The annual excavations at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland are starting this year with the help of some very special volunteers. The Vindolanda Trust has given 10 of its highly sought after excavation places in the opening two week period to Operation Nightingale, an award winning project run by the Defence Archaeology Group (DAG) which uses archaeology to aid the recovery of injured service personnel.
Under the supervision of experienced Vindolanda archaeologists, serving personnel and veterans will be working alongside volunteers from around the world with the shared ambition of discovering more about this fascinating Roman site between 30th March and the 10th April. The team will be carrying out their operation ‘Exercise Mars Tablet’ in the late 4th Century barrack blocks within the south east quadrant of the last stone fort, near the area where last year a volunteer at the site uncovered an exceptionally rare gold coin of the Emperor Nero.
Dr Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations explained: '‘The serving personnel and veterans will be involved in everything we do, as well as introducing the skills of excavation, surveying, artefact handling and recording, the volunteers at Vindolanda also foster mutual support, lasting friendships and take away with them some of the pride and passion which Vindolanda has in abundance’
Some of the service personnel and veterans have both physical and mental injuries sustained in operations in Afghanistan and other environments and Dr Birley noted: ‘there will be challenges for individuals and for us as a team. We are aware that one gentleman has no upper limbs due to his combat injuries and another is registered blind, but support is in place to ensure that all participants can gain as much as possible from the experience within their individual abilities’.
Sgt Diarmaid Walshe RAMC, Project Manager of the Defence Archaeology Group and himself a qualified archaeologist commented: ‘We are very fortunate to be working with the Vindolanda Trust on this unique site. Our programme uses archaeology as a pathway to their recovery, giving individuals something useful and rewarding to do which in turn can help them rebuild their self-esteem, provide them with a sense of purpose and give them something positive to strive for’. It also has the addition benefit to prove a focus to both our service personal and veterans to put something back into the community as a way of showing their gratitude for all the public support shown to them.
In addition to the service personnel who are taking part in the dig the Vindolanda Trust is extending its generosity to serving personnel who wish to come along and support their colleagues by giving them free entry into the site. The Trust’s spokesperson said: ‘we hope the public will come show their support for the volunteers. Serving military personnel will be admitted free if they show their MOD card to our staff during these two weeks’.
The Vindolanda excavations run this year from the 30th March to the 25th September and will see nearly 400 volunteers take part in the longest ongoing excavation on Hadrian’s Wall. Last year was an outstanding season for discoveries and with the excavations continuing in the same areas it looks like 2015 may be just as exciting.