A traditional Bronze Age roundhouse, based on archaeological remains uncovered at Dunch Hill on Salisbury Plain, has been built by a team of 25 military veterans at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire.
The reconstruction, which was officially unveiled by TV presenter and archaeologist Professor Alice Roberts, called on the services of Operation Nightingale – a Ministry of Defence initiative to assist the recovery of wounded, injured and sick Armed Forces personnel – and the support of charity Step Together and Breaking Ground Heritage.
In addition to giving archaeologists a chance to explore how earth-walled roundhouses might have been built, the project allowed veterans to participate in a number of workshops, learning construction techniques including thatching, woodworking and daubing as well as other essential ancient skills including pottery, spinning and cookery.
Reflecting on the experience of working in collaboration with staff at the experimental archaeology site, former Serviceman John William Bennett said: “To start with I was both excited and apprehensive about the project – apprehensive because I was fearful of how I would react to it, as socialising was a big trigger for my functional neurological disorder affecting my mobility and motor control. However, I need not have worried, I haven’t been triggered and my confidence has really grown.
“Meeting and working with Time Team archaeologist Phil Harding on day one and then being interviewed on camera and still not having any symptoms was just incredible,” he added. “Working through each stage of the project has been brilliant and I still find it hard to believe how much my life has turned around because of it.”
Experimental archaeologist Trevor Creighton, from Butser Ancient Farm, said: “This is a significant project in a number of ways. Not only was this our first time working with volunteers from Operation Nightingale, but it is also our first ever Bronze Age building, so it gives us a great way to introduce school students and other visitors to this significant period in Britain’s past.
“My colleagues and the Operation Nightingale team have formed a brilliant collaborative network and we are creating a building that helps us better understand prehistoric architecture.
“In the coming years it will provide even more insights into structures that no-one has seen for 3,000 years. But more than that, it is a way that we can give back something to people who have served their country in often harrowing situations.”
Work began on the replica of a building originally assembled around 1200 BC in April, took more than 1,000 hours to complete and was made possible thanks to grants of £10,000 from the South Downs National Park Authority, which was drawn from its Covid-19 Recovery Fund, and £35,000 from Step Together via the Armed Forces Covenant Positive Pathways Fund.
“I have really enjoyed being involved in this project,” explained Step Together’s volunteer project manager Elaine Corner. “Recruiting the veterans and coordinating the sessions has been demanding but satisfying. The project has been so varied that no two days are the same and it has been fantastic to see new friendships forged, new skills learned, and confidences rebuilt.
“It is so satisfying to see those needing support become volunteers and move their lives forward by taking steps in the right direction for a successful future.”
Anooshka Rawden, cultural heritage lead for the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This project has not only contributed to archaeological research and supported Butser Ancient Farm in telling a wider story with their unique and important site, but it’s shown that archaeology brings with it wider benefits – the opportunity to learn new skills, experience materials in new ways, and most importantly, see time depth, and the associations we can make with that experience around recovery, resilience and change.
“The people who have contributed to making this project happen have shown immense resilience, both as serving military personnel and in their own personal stories of recovery.
“The South Downs National Park Authority is extremely proud to have been able to contribute towards this project, and the new partnerships it has brought for Butser Ancient Farm, which is a site like no other in the National Park.”
Find out more about the project at https://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/rebuilding-the-bronze-age.
Main photo: Courtesy of Harvey Mills Photography