Introducing… Waterloo Uncovered

So here's a question for you - 'How do you do archaeology remotely, if you can’t hop over the channel to your favourite battlefield?' This is the conundrum Waterloo Uncovered faced last year. A fantastic charity supporting the wellbeing of veterans and serving military personnel, their work was centred on a two week excavation in Belgium each summer. With travel out of the question, but wellbeing support never more needed, some rapid creative thinking was needed. Katie Buckley, Head of Programmes, tells us what happened next... 

Bringing archaeology home - test pitting in the garden! © Waterloo Uncovered

Katie Buckley, Head of Programmes, Waterloo Uncovered

Who we are and what we do

Waterloo Uncovered is the ground-breaking charity that supports Veterans and Serving Military Personnel (VSMP), many of whom have experienced mental or physical impacts from their service, with their recovery and wellbeing.

Happy dig team at Mont Saint Jean in a normal year / © Chris Van Houts

The project had its origins in the shared experience of Mark Evans and Charlie Foinette. Both had studied archaeology together and subsequently served as officers in the Coldstream Guards. We were established in 2015 to investigate and preserve the heritage of the battlefield of Waterloo, Belgium, in combination with providing support for veterans and serving military personnel. This was a new and innovative approach which has grown and expanded, supporting VSMP with both their wellbeing and wider life skills while also finding 5,000 archaeological artefacts!

Katie's favourite find involved metal detectorists and the Belgium Bomb Squad! (read to end for more!) / © Chris Van Houts

Traditionally, we head out to the Waterloo Battlefield with a team of around 130 people and excavate for two weeks of the summer; since 2015, we’ve worked closely with AWaP (the Belgian regional archaeology service), our partner organisations (including L-P: Archaeology, as well as the universities of Glasgow, Ghent and Utrecht) to make these an incredible experience.  

In 2020, due to lockdown & Covid-19 that all changed.

Digging in to new frontiers!

How do you do archaeology remotely, if you can’t hop over the channel to your favourite battlefield?

Well, we took things virtual. By March we had already committed to supporting our chosen cohort, so we created the Virtual Programme, based on a combination of a successful 2019 pilot and the knowledge and expertise we’d built up.

Online lectures used in the virtual programme / © Waterloo Uncovered

The programme had a particular emphasis on maintaining mental wellbeing to overcome the potential risks of social isolation. Support was year-round and began with an ambitious series of online talks, articles, films, and audio. Interactive resources and sessions kept people engaged. We provided participants with over 70 contact hours, wellbeing support and the opportunity to interact online with other VSMP between scheduled activities. The programme, which supported 24 UK VSMP, ran for a year, with an initial online series lasting twelve weeks. This included weekly interactive activities led by our excavation supervisors, and opportunities for one-on-one sessions with the Wellbeing & Support Team. Other activities included “At Home Archaeology” training, practical tasks, virtual museum tours, Waterloo Ghost stories, virtual reality explorations of the battlefield, podcasts, lectures, and enrolment in Battlefields Uncovered - an online course run in partnership with Utrecht University, offering students a chance to achieve internationally recognised academic credits.

Making an impact

Fundamentally, we were able to keep a group of individuals who would have been otherwise isolated in Covid engaged year-round. They learned new skills, formed solid friendships and were able to gain a deeper understanding of the Battle of Waterloo in a safe and supportive environment. As one of our participants commented:

“I don’t think anyone expected the level of challenge that was thrown at us when Covid came along… Waterloo Uncovered were very quick to dive in and come up with an alternative - the Virtual Programme. It was perfectly timed, giving us something really meaty to get our teeth into. There was a lot of background research, lots of videos to watch, lots of resources to broaden my knowledge of the battle - that was great.”

Digital archaeology - a virtual tour of Hougomont Farm / © Waterloo Uncovered

Taking it further!

This year, we’re running another Virtual Archaeology Programme as we’re still unable to go to Belgium and we found that people gained so much from their experience in 2020! This is taking place as we speak and with 10 UK and 3 German VSMP involved, kicking off with an initial six weeks of intensive content. We’re also running two new programmes, our Finds Programme and our Arts Programme, run virtually through online meet ups and in person in small groups. Both support 9 UK beneficiaries a piece. We’ll be staying in touch with our 2021 Cohort throughout the year and hope to meet everyone in person at a reunion in the National Army Museum in January 2022.

*Katie's favourite find (so far!) was an 18th century Howlitzer shell uncovered by by metal detectorists behind the farm, Mont Saint Jean, in 2019. "Calling the Belgium bomb squad was interesting, considering they are more used to WW1 & 2 munitions!" Read more about the discovery on their Dig Diary here.

Find out more

About Waterloo Uncovered...

Heritage and wellbeing beyond archaeology...

About Katie Buckley

I’ve been with Waterloo Uncovered for just over two years, have managed one excavation to Belgium and very much plan to be back there in 2022. I studied Historical Archaeology at the University of York and have a real love of all things ancient, Waterloo and buildings related! If I’m not doing archaeology, you’ll find me cooking, or in a pub garden near you…