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Archaeological therapy for injured soldiers (VIDEO)

Soldiers Jake Cleves (left) and Simon James

A unique archaeological project, a collaboration of injured UK forces personnel and archaeologists, has proved to be a great success, organisers say.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester and injured British soldiers have been working together to discover the secrets of an ancient Roman harbour before they are lost to the sea forever. For two weeks, from September 3 to 17, they investigated the shores of Dreamer’s Bay on the Akrotiri peninsula.

Dreamer's Bay at Akrotiri
Dreamer’s Bay at Akrotiri

The injured military personnel and support staff have joined the project under Operation Nightingale, a winning project which seeks to help UK forces personnel and veterans, who have been injured mentally or physically 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.

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 ancient quarries and rock-cut tombs. In the bay is also an ancient breakwater, now submerged.

Archaeologists hope the project will help them understand the nature and extent of the port settlement and when it was founded.

The university team who were in Akrotiri for the second time this September are delighted with this year’s findings.

“The findings are much bigger and more complicated than we thought last year,” said field director Vicki Score. “We have discovered many more layers which we had thought were eroded by the sea, and also objects such as coins.”

According to project director Simon James the whole area of the ancient harbour is much bigger than previously thought, at least 500 metres in length.

“It is an archaeologist’s paradise,” Score commented. “In the UK you sometimes find a ditch or something like that but here you find coins, artefacts, buildings and all in beautiful surroundings.”

The project constantly raises new questions such as what role the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Kourion and its region in AD365 may have had on the site. A key question is whether its origins date back to the Hellenistic times (about 300 BC) as has been argued.

For the servicemen, working on the project helps them rediscover old skills and develop new 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,” Les Richardson from the Royal Army medical corps said.

“We are learning skills like photography, drawing, and social and communication skills, and we also learn about buildings and meet new people,” soldier Jake Cleves told the Cyprus Mail.

“It is great to find something that has been lost for thousands of years and you know you are the first one to touch it since then,” serviceman Simon James added.

The archaeologists are also happy with the cooperation though teaching new techniques to the service personnel does slow them down a bit.

One of the artefacts found at the site
One of the artefacts found at the site

“It has also been a really good mix. They are asking us why are you doing this and that, and you have to think, ‘Yes, why am I doing this?’ It brings us back to what archaeology is about,” Score said.

One difficulty is that the project is not funded by the university or any other organisation, though the military help when can, such as flying out the injured in military planes and providing access to food, free accommodation and equipment in Akrotiri. However, the university personnel have to pay for their flights and are doing the job for free in their summer holidays.

Despite this, all of those who were at the site on Thursday are determined to come back. The university team is preparing to cover the site “so that we can start where we stop this year”, and the soldiers also want to participate again.

“I love archaeology now and if I get the opportunity again next year I would definitely come,” said Cleves.

The work is conducted with the agreement and support of the antiquities department and the UK defence ministry. Artefacts recovered from the site will be assessed and stored in the Episkopi museum. In future, it is planned to involve staff and/or students from the University of Cyprus in the project.

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