Roman Caistor: Veterans help uncover new Iron Age evidence

Military veterans have joined a community dig inspired by a therapy programme that helps injured and sick former service personnel.

The Roman settlement at Caistor, Norfolk, is excavated every summer by a mix of locals and archaeologists.

This year seven veterans are taking part after hearing about a therapy project called Operation Nightingale.

Caistor Roman Project director Will Bowden said: "It is wonderful to have the input of the veterans."

Former Royal Engineer Chris Ellis said he really enjoyed taking part.

"It's something I normally wouldn't have thought about doing, but I'm glad I did," he said.

"It helps me because I'm used to a work ethic of order and procedure, which this organised dig has in abundance - the team help us to fit in well."

The Ministry of Defence programme was co-founded by archaeologist Richard Osgood and has been running since 2011.

While the veterans were not part of MOD initiative, Mr Osgood offered "advice and help in developing a programme of recruiting and working with military veterans or personnel", said Caistor's community co-ordinator Caroline Lowton.

"All our veterans were aware of the good work of Operation Nightingale."

For some, this "gave them the incentive to seek" out the dig, while the Loddon branch of the Royal British Legion and military breakfast clubs helped with recruitment.

Ms Lowton said: "Many of these veterans have suffered from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and isolation, and they found working outside in archaeological settings to be very therapeutic."

The settlement was the largest Roman town in East Anglia. This summer's excavation has already uncovered new evidence of Iron Age activity.

Prof Bowden, a Roman archaeology specialist from Nottingham University, said: "We can provide a calm and enjoyable working environment, while those who have been in the services have an abundance of practical skills that are highly relevant when running an excavation."

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