British army veterans and serving soldiers, some wounded in recent campaigns, are working alongside archaeologists to unearth the history of the Battle of Waterloo 200 years on.
Waterloo Uncovered, the first major international archaeological project at the former battlefield, was developed by former soldier and archaeology student Mark Evans. The 37-year-old was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after serving seven months in Afghanistan in 2008, and found archaeology to be a welcome reprieve.
"When I had PTSD, you're consumed, your mind is just, every day, every night, every waking, sleeping hour you're living in Afghanistan. And you just sometimes need something to switch that focus, and archaeology, because it's practical, because it's interesting and new and exciting, actually just getting here and just lifting some turf, going down with the trowel for a few hours of a day, it might just provide somebody with a little bit of space and that's what it does, has done for me," Evans said on Wednesday (29 April).
Soldiers dig alongside archaeologists from the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany at Hougoumont Farm. The Coldstream Guards, Evan's former regiment, defended the site during the famous battle of 18 June 1815.
The project hopes the soldiers' frontline experience will bring a new element of understanding to the archaeologist's work.
"Now we've got some of the top archaeologists in the world working on this site, but none of them has ever been in a battle, and it's that perspective that the soldiers bring. They've been there, they've seen it. A different time and a different place, but they understand the confusion, they understand how ground is so important to cover and to make into advances," Evans said.
The dig has so far uncovered coins, buttons, and English and French musket balls. The musket balls, which Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, is able to distinguish by size, were an exciting discovery for the project.
"The important thing about these is that these are probably among the first shots fired in the Battle of Waterloo, which when you consider that hundreds and thousands of shots were fired during the day, that's really quite a moment to be able to capture," he said.
Waterloo Uncovered was initially devised as a one-year project, but may continue for several years. One of its aims is to identify the final resting places of soldiers who have lain undiscovered for 200 years.