Breaking ground at Barrow Clump

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Barrow Clump (located in the copse of trees) is a Neolithic settlement reused as a burial site during the early Bronze Age and the Anglo-Saxon period. In recent years, there have been two rescue excavations to save the site from badger damage. (Image: Harvey Mills)

During November, Wessex Archaeology, with the support of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), returned to Barrow Clump – a Neolithic settlement on Salisbury Plain reused as a burial site during the early Bronze Age and the Anglo-Saxon period – to salvage archaeological remains that are under threat from the activity of tunnelling badgers.

This time they are working in partnership with Breaking Ground Heritage; the first modern excavations at Barrow Clump were carried out between 2012 and 2014 by Wessex Archaeology and Operation Nightingale – an initiative that involves injured armed forces personnel in archaeological fieldwork (see CA 306). During this earlier project, parts of the site’s early Bronze Age barrow were uncovered, as well as the remnants of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery whose graves radiated around half of the prehistoric burial mound.

Veterans participated, as part of Operation Nightingale, in the first modern excavations between 2012 and 2014. Last November many returned for another dig, run by Wessex Archaeology and Breaking Ground Heritage. (Image: Harvey Mills)

Over the past year, further badger disruption had been noted at the site, and the latest excavations were focused on rescuing areas of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery that had not been previously excavated. This work unearthed six more burials, including that of a probable female (buried with two copper disc-brooches, a pair of tweezers, a perforated Roman coin necklace, and glass/amber beads) and a probable male (buried with a spearhead, belt buckle, knife, and a very well-preserved decorated pot to the left side of his head). There were also one juvenile and three infant burials recorded, and the location of these inhumations has helped to fully determine the outer boundaries of the cemetery.

Many of the former armed forces personnel and archaeologists who first came together on the project three years ago reunited for this dig. Despite the much colder, crisper conditions, former participants eagerly returned to ‘the Clump’, with some coming from as far away as Scotland in order to participate; other veterans were experiencing their first ever archaeological excavation.

Overall, this was an exciting opportunity for Breaking Ground Heritage, whose founder Dickie Bennett, a former Royal Marine, got into archaeology during the 2013 excavation at Barrow Clump. After working with Operation Nightingale for a few years, and obtaining both an honours degree and masters in Archaeology, Dickie was inspired to broaden the reach of the initiative – hoping to involve veterans across the UK and abroad, as well as to expand into all areas of heritage. In 2015, he founded Breaking Ground Heritage in order to provide former servicemen and women with ‘a safe environment to reintegrate, test their physical limitations, create peer networks, and once again feel like part of a team’.

If you are a veteran, serving member of the armed forces, or just an interested volunteer, you can find out more about Breaking Ground Heritage, including how to get involved, at  

This article appeared in CA 336.

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