Archaeological dig at site of wartime horse hospital

world-war-I-horseArchaeologists have been digging at the site of a specialised veterinary hospital in Britain that cared for an estimated 500,000 horses during World War 1.

The research aims to find out more about the care of the huge number of horses and mules that hauled weaponry, stores and personnel to and from the front line.

The project, known as Digging War Horse, is part of Britain’s World War 1 centenary celebrations.

Archaeologists from the University of Bristol have teamed up with local school children, veterans of more modern conflicts, and volunteers to uncover the history of the nation’s war horses.

The dig team has been excavating a site at Larkhill Camp on the Salisbury Plain.

Documentary evidence suggested it was the site of a specialised veterinary hospital which would have quarantined and cared for some of the 500,000 animals commandeered from British families or imported from the Americas and Iberian Peninsula during the war.

Test pits were dug and a controlled metal detection survey of the site was conducted.

No physical trace of the horse hospital buildings survived. However, horse shoes, farrier’s nails and various materials associated with equine activity were found.

In a quirky twist, a photographer documented the event with a World War 1 plate camera.

Philip Rowe, from the University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, said the project enabled researchers, young people and those affected by the traumas of war to work together.

“Horses were such an important part of the legacy of World War 1 and Digging War Horse helps people to understand the significance of horses during the war years at home and abroad.”

The veterans involved in the dig comprised service men and women injured in modern conflicts. They came through Operation Nightingale, an organisation that supports former soldiers’ rehabilitation and skills development through archaeology.

The Digging War Horse project will officially finish in March.

Final results will be presented at an event where Michael Morpurgo, the man whose children’s book, War Horse, was turned into a hit stage production of the same name, will be in attendance.

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