Injured soldiers work with ULAS staff in unique Cypriot archaeological project

UK Forces personnel, who have been injured mentally or physically on operations or in other circumstances, join university students and staff at ancient Roman harbour.

A unique collaboration between archaeologists and injured Service personnel sees them pitted in a race against time to discover the secrets of an ancient Roman harbour in Cyprus before they are lost forever to the sea.

On the shores of Dreamer’s Bay, on the Akrotiri peninsula at the southernmost tip of Cyprus, ancient buildings are being eroded away by the sea. They comprise part of a larger unknown ancient harbour settlement, now inside the UK Royal Air Force’s busiest operational base. The remains are being investigated through a collaborative archaeology project, involving civilian archaeologists and injured UK Service personnel, between 3 and 17 September 2016. This is an exercise in what the military term CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation).

3 UofL excavation Dreamers Bay Sept 2015 (c) Simon James IMG_2995
Excavating a late Roman/early Byzantine (4th-6th century AD) port building at Dreamer’s Bay, RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, during pilot University of Leicester excavation in September 2015 (photo: Simon James).

The archaeological expedition to Akrotiri, comprising staff and students of the University of Leicester, UK, will be joined by a team of injured military personnel and support staff under Operation Nightingale. Op Nightingale is an award-winning project which seeks to help UK Forces personnel and veterans, who have been injured mentally or physically on operations or in other circumstances, to make additional progress through engaging them in archaeology.

The archaeological aim is to explore the extent, nature and history of the ancient port at Dreamer’s Bay, which presents a unique opportunity to study a relatively undisturbed stretch of archaeological landscape at a time of rampant commercial and touristic coastal development in Cyprus and the Mediterranean.

Dreamer’s Bay harbour is thought to have served the nearby ancient city of Kourion, 13 km. to the northwest. Numerous visible architectural remains exist including foundations of a number of large buildings. In the vicinity there are also ancient quarries and rock-cut tombs. In the bay is also an ancient breakwater, now submerged. The project seeks to answer a number of questions:

  • What is the nature and extent of the port settlement? How large was the built-up area, and what can we discover about its layout?
  • When was it founded? Was it indeed a Hellenistic Greek foundation (about 300 BC) as has been argued?
  • Why was it established? Was its flourishing related to the silting up of the channel which turned Akrotiri from island to peninsula, creating a need or opportunity for a harbour at the site?
  • Did the earthquake and Tsunami which devastated Kourion and its region in AD365 have any role?
  • How did it develop?
  • What trading function did the port have, and what Mediterranean trade routes did it engage with?
  • How did it meet its end? Was it abandoned in the 7th century AD due to Arab coastal raiding, as has been argued?
  • What might be done to present the archaeological heritage to public audiences?
2 UofL excavation Dreamers Bay Sept 2015 (c) Simon James IMG_2871
Excavating a late Roman/early Byzantine (4th-6th century AD) port building at Dreamer’s Bay, RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, during pilot University of Leicester excavation in September 2015 (photo: Simon James).

The archaeological fieldwork will be conducted by a team of academic staff and students from the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and professional field archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), the School’s fieldwork contracting arm. It will be led by project director Professor Simon James, and field director Ms Vicki Score of ULAS. Colleagues from the University of Southampton will also be present, to investigate the formation of the peninsula, and prospects for documenting the underwater archaeology of the harbour in future collaboration with Leicester. The project also aims to develop collaboration with Cypriot archaeologists.

The work is conducted with the agreement and kind support of the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities, to whom the University of Leicester is very grateful. The civil archaeological team and their activities also rely heavily on the active support of the UK Ministry of Defence. Permission to excavate is granted by the UK Sovereign Base Areas Administration, on behalf of which the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) will monitor the dig. The work will be conducted with the kind consent of RAF Akrotiri’s Station Commander, who  is providing vital assistance in the form of accommodation, equipment and access to dining facilities. Above all, to succeed the University team will rely on its partnership with the Defence Archaeology Group (DAG).

Op Nightingale at Akrotiri: Exercise ARTEMIS 16

DAG is running the Op Nightingale scheme at RAF Akrotiri in the form of a military exercise, Ex ARTEMIS 16, commanded by Captain Les Richardson, Royal Army Medical Corps. The participating Wounded, Injured and Sick (WIS) this year will all be serving personnel , who have (or had) debilitating physical and/or psychological injuries. On the archaeological project, working alongside students, they will be introduced by the professional archaeologists to new skills including excavation, survey, processing artefacts and public outreach activities. Through this they will also develop transferable skills including team working and problem solving. In a supportive environment living and working both with military peers, and with the civilian team, the WIS volunteers will not only develop new skills but rediscover old ones. Past experience on Op Nightingale exercises shows that this can  help them rebuild self-confidence and prepare  for the future, whether through returning to regular duties or planning for civilian life.

4 Op Nightingale excavation Caerwent Training Area 2014  (c) Simon James IMG_1628edited
Injured UK military veterans working with civilian archaeologists and University of Leicester students on a Roman building within the Ministry of Defence training area at Caerwent, South Wales in 2014 (photo: Simon James).

Mr Philip Abramson, DIO archaeologist, said: “DIO’s priority has always been to support our Armed Forces in any way we can. There are long-standing connections between the profession of archaeology and the military. This work draws on a number of important skill-sets to give the soldiers an enduring interest in heritage and their environment.

“The project has proved of immense value thus far in assisting the recovery of our Service personnel as well veterans who have served their country. It also allows the MOD to continue its stated aim to ensure that the national heritage under its control and stewardship is maintained, researched and protected while at the same time accomplishing some great archaeology.”

Capt Les Richardson, Officer in Charge of Op Nightingale’s Ex ARTEMIS 16 said: “This unique project provides an opportunity for our Service personnel to work in a military/civil coordinated effort to help and understand the problems of natural erosion, which is threatening one of the most significant archaeological sites in Cyprus. It’s helping to build links with the local community and engaging with elements of the local population they normally have no interaction with.

“Furthermore, it provides a beneficial programme that helps prepare Service personnel with informal training and experience exposing them to supplementary options on education and employment when or if they have left service life.

“The key to the success of the project is that the soldiers find themselves as a focal point for everything we do. They will engage in all the different activities, from digging to surveying, photography and finds processing. They have responsibilities to ensure that key tasks expected, are achieved in a timely manner. Rebuilding the foundations of teamwork and comradeship, that they tell us they have sorely missed.

“The reason the programme works so well, is that it gives them a different focus and keeps their minds active, processing familiar challenges in a familiar ‘field environment’ but with an unaccustomed sense of purpose and reward.  Thus, rebuilding their self-worth and providing them with the positive assurance that they can succeed.  Moreover, the support that they get from the students and professionals of the University is paramount for them to engage with people that may well have proved too difficult for them, in an isolated atmosphere.

“The responses from Service personnel and veterans who have attended the programme so far, is not only that they enjoyed themselves and had a positive experience but it has helped them deal with issues that were holding back their potential.”

6 Op Nightingale excavation Caerwent Training Area 2012  (c) Simon James IMG_3959
Injured UK soldiers working with civilian archaeologists and University of Leicester students on a Roman building within the Ministry of Defence training area at Caerwent, South Wales in 2012 (photo: Simon James).

Professor Simon James of the University of Leicester said: “The University of Leicester is delighted to be the archaeological partner in this project, which not only expands our understanding of the history of a fascinating place in the Mediterranean, but also helps support injured servicemen and women. Our participation in Op Nightingale’s Ex ARTEMIS 16 continues our longstanding partnership with Defence Archaeology Group (DAG) and the MOD in engaging in high quality archaeological research on UK Defence sites and especially in supporting people who have suffered harm while serving their country.

“While teaching serving and veteran injured about archaeology, all of us, staff and students, find that we have much to learn, too, from some remarkable people, while we are all working together to explore a remarkable archaeological landscape, and present our results to the wider community, UK and Cypriot, military and civilian.”

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