The Defence Archaeology Group was founded in 2012 to to utilise both the technical and social aspects of field archaeology in the recovery and skill development of soldiers injured in the conflict in Afghanistan
The abiding public image of the current conflict in Afghanistan is the repatriation parades for fallen soldiers through the village of Royal Wootton Bassett in the country of Wiltshire. However further to the south of the county a project has been developed to deal with the hidden casualties of the conflict.
It is perhaps not widely appreciated that the founding fathers of much of modern archaeology were senior figures within the British army including Lt-General Pitt Rivers, Brigadier Mortimer Wheeler, Col TE Lawrence, and O.G.S Crawford to name but a few. Meanwhile, many of those who grew the discipline in the post-War world of university expansion and Rescue Archaeology learnt many of their skills in uniform. With the inherent skills of the infantryman; an appreciation of landscape, topography and deposits in the ground as their lives depend upon it, it is less of a leap of faith to think that archaeology might be a discipline perfect for soldiers.
The project derived from a conversation between Richard Osgood, Senior Historic Advisor within the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) of the Ministry of Defence and Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe of 1st Battalion, The Rifles. Sergeant Walshe, who is responsible for the medical care and treatment of the soldiers, including injured personal returned from operations overseas, identified a growing need for some form of occupational therapy and recovery. As an archaeologist himself he recognised that archaeology had many elements that could help address some of the complex needs of these soldiers and addressing the ailments that they were exhibiting.
A project, codenamed ‘Operation Nightingale’ was developed to utilise both the technical and social aspects of field archaeology to help in the recovery and skill development of soldiers injured in the conflict in Afghanistan. There is a close correlation between the skills required by the modern soldier and those of the professional archaeologist. These skills include surveying, geophysics (for ordnance recovery or revealing cultural heritage sites), scrutiny of the ground (for improvised explosive devices or artefacts), site and team management, mapping, navigation and the physical ability to cope with hard manual work in often inclement weather conditions.