Authentic and therapeutic engagement with the past for veterans at Nokalakevi, Georgia, and on Breaking Ground Heritage projects in the UK

Paul Everill, Nikoloz Murgulia, Richard Bennett, Davit Lomitashvili, Karen Burnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article summarises the application of archaeological fieldwork to support improvements in mental health and wellbeing among military veterans. First delivered in 2011 through the Operation Nightingale initiative in the UK, and subsequently expanded through Breaking Ground Heritage, Waterloo Uncovered and other veteran-led programmes, the benefits are increasingly well-studied and documented, with several studies now published. In trying to understand ‘how’ archaeology supports effective non-medical intervention, this article reports results from a veteran wellbeing programme in Nokalakevi, Georgia, which hosted Georgian and Ukrainian veterans in 2019. Analysis of qualitative data obtained from the participants, who worked alongside British and Georgian staff and students, is presented within a thematic framework developed through research undertaken in the UK with British veterans. By comparing and contrasting data obtained from Nokalakevi with that of Breaking Ground Heritage projects in the UK it was possible to identify common yet independently achieved outcomes. The analysis demonstrates common themes across all the participants, with responses illustrating the importance of three aspects of individual experience during archaeological fieldwork: interpersonal; developmental; and holistic personal development. It is proposed that these aspects are the key elements that contribute to improved veteran wellbeing through participation on excavation projects, including the provision of social and peer support opportunities. It is also clear from this research, and that described elsewhere, that authentic and meaningful engagement with the historic environment can have a truly therapeutic impact on people with mental health needs. This sense of authenticity is often derived through participation on a project that it is well supported by experienced archaeologists and heritage professionals, meaning that individuals feel that they are contributing fully (i.e. authentically) to a better understanding and interpretation of the site and, by doing so, are engaging actively with the historic environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-66
JournalArheologia
Volume2022
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2022

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