AN ancient skeleton helped a Royal Marine get his life back on track after being blown up by a terrorist's roadside bomb.

Richard Bennett was at rock bottom after spinal injuries suffered when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011 saw him medically discharged.

He has since rebuilt his life helping excavate sites of archaeological interest - and has even set up his own company, all with the support of Lottery funding.

"In the military, you don't talk about your feelings," said Richard, of Taunton.

"You have an emotional suit of armour and when you leave this disappears.

"You're vulnerable and start feeling all these emotions that you don't really know how to deal with.

"It was a big shock. I had a career one day, the next day I didn't."

He drifted into offshore maritime security jobs, but his injuries made the work and lifestyle hard and he returned to Taunton after a friend's suicide triggered a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was then that a veterans' charity pointed him in the direction of Project Florence, which involved Wessex Archaeology working with wounded military personnel to excavate a Bronze Age burial site on Salisbury Plain.

On his first dig, Richard unearthed a skeleton - and from then on he was hooked.

Now, three years on, he has completed an archaeology degree and is setting up a community interest company to continue the work of Project Florence.

He said: "Archaeology has a huge cathartic value.

"Depending on your state of mind, you can choose to sit there and reflect on life or just concentrate on looking for something in the ground and not think about anything else at all.

"PTSD manifests itself in many different ways. For me I have to keep busy and I have to keep doing things. It was something to really focus on and get immersed in and learn new skills."

Richard believes archaeology is perfect for former military personnel as it mimics the rigour, routine and strength in adversity of the Forces.

"In the military you're told when to get up, when to eat breakfast, when to have a shower," he added.

"In archaeology there are also set processes you have to go through. You have to do things in a certain way and pay attention to detail or you're going to miss something."

Richard felt "worthless and a failure" when he left the military, but added: "By coming to the project I was back with the military guys that spoke my language, who laughed at the sort of things I laughed at.

"People open up and say, 'I'm having a bad day'. Because we've all been there, we can all empathise. It creates a strong bond and a trusting friendship.

"My family have noticed a huge difference. I've become more responsible, more grown up."