EAA Conference report – PhD student Aboli Vavle

Presenting my PhD research at the biggest Archaeological conference.

On September 1st and 2nd, I had the privilege of attending the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) conference in Belfast, UK which is one of the biggest archaeological conferences. During the conference, I had the opportunity to share my findings and engage with fellow scholars and researchers in the field. I presented my research on the Unravelling of textile production in the Roman frontier which was in collaboration with Gillian Taylor (Director of Studies), Marta Alberti (Deputy Director of Excavations at Vindolanda Trust, UK) and Heather Hopkins (Independent Research who provided the birch dyed wool for the experiments). Our research aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the textile production techniques employed by the Romans in their frontier regions as well as shed light on experimental archaeology like dyeing textiles with local dyes like Birch.

I was in the first session after lunch on 2nd September. I had expected a moderate turnout for my presentation since textile production in the Roman frontier might not be a topic of interest to everyone. However, to my surprise, the room was packed with attendees eager to learn about Roman textile production and dyeing. The interest and engagement of the audience during my presentation was truly inspiring. I saw everyone attentively listening to what I was trying to explain and actively taking notes. I saw some people taking pictures of all my slides as well as 3-4 people raising their hands to ask questions and seek clarification on certain aspects of my research. One of the questions raised during the Q&A session was regarding extraction of dyes such as birch and if the methods are applicable to other dyes as well. I personally thought it was the best time to ask me this particular question because it was only a few weeks before this conference that I worked in the lab trying to find an answer to this question, which is yes! It was wonderful to see that the audience was genuinely interested and engaged with my research. This also gave me an experience of understanding what questions I could be asked for my PhD viva soon.

The EAA conference in Belfast provided a valuable platform for scholars and researchers to exchange knowledge and ideas about several research topics from all around the world. It was a massive conference with at least 50 sessions being conducted simultaneously in different parts of the University. This conference provided a diverse range of perspectives and insights into the study of colours, dyes and textiles allowing me to broaden my understanding and refine my research further. The experience of presenting my research at the EAA conference in Belfast was both exciting and rewarding and I am immensely grateful that I was given this opportunity.

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Visit to National Geographic Headquarters in August

On August 29th, Dr Lisa Baldini visited the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington DC to provide an update on progress since her two-year National Geographic Explorer project began in December 2022. Phase I of the project involved expeditions to karst regions in Nigeria (in April), Gabon (in June) and Cameroon (in August) in search of cave stalagmites for palaeoclimate reconstruction. These were carried out in partnership with local researchers from several institutions in each country. Planning for the Phase II expeditions is currently underway. These will begin after the onset of the Nigerian dry season in February. Project Partner and NGS photographer, Robbie Shone and Lisa are currently pitching a potential National Geographic magazine article or documentary to be photographed/filmed during the 2024 Phase II expeditions.

Follow Lisa’s National Geographic Explorer Project on X (Twitter)   & Facebook.

Guest talk at Sanger institute by Dr Jamie Bojko

Dr Jamie Bojko recently presented at the Sanger Institute (Cambridge) in their ‘Tree of Life’ series. His presentation included our current perspective on microsporidian taxonomy and how high-quality genomes and a greater understanding of microsporidian biology will help us to create a more accurate phylogeny for this strange group of obligate parasites.

Magna – Summer progress 2023

At the  start of July, the HLF funded project started at Magna. The £1.6M project was to support excavation and explore the impact of climate change, and awarded to the Vindolanda Trust.

The Teesside University team were involved in the installation of the weather station and monitoring system – VanWalt, which provides data every 15 minutes from a wide range of sensors including pH, temperature, ORP and moisture.

In July, soil monitoring was conducted by Dr Gillian Taylor and Dr Rhys Williams prior to the excavation. You can keep upto date with excavation progress by following the dig diary. The excavation in 2023 focuses on milecastle 46 and already some interesting artefacts such as a steelyard beam.

There is also a wonderful report in current archaeology about Magna and magnifying milecastle 46.


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Partnership update: East Durham College

An increasing global population and an increasing demand for animal protein has increased the pressure on commercial farming systems. Efficiency is therefore critical, ensuring appropriate growth, balanced with maintaining high standards of welfare. Animal feed represents a significant outgoing for farmers and many commercially purchased feeds also come at significant environmental cost. Growing crops at distance to the farm increases the carbon footprint and the use of imported soya is problematic. Adapting ways of working is crucial, ensuring a balance between optimum growth rates of livestock, ensuring the health and welfare of the animals is maintained, whilst sourcing feed sustainably and locally, potentially complementing farming practices such as crop rotation. For farmers to have confidence in changing feeding regimes, evidence is required demonstrating that pigs will consume locally grown food and reach weight targets in a timely manner. Furthermore, such a change in diet for the animals should be confirmed to result in no negative impact on consumer experience. 

Together with our industrial partner at East Durham College, we are undertaking a project which aims to showcase the potential benefits of producing animal feed on the same site as the animals are reared.

Any questions to Dr Amy Miller

Contact details and further information here: https://research.tees.ac.uk/en/persons/amy-miller

New paper alert: Climate Change – Dr Ernesto Saiz Val

Climate change is affecting the dynamics of greenhouse gas emissions depending on land use, a new study by Guo et al. (2023) has found.

Climate change is now a fact. Experts all over the world agree that we are going to suffer more frequent extreme weather. This is then more frequent heavy rain leading in many cases to severe flooding, and more frequent heat waves leading to severe droughts. Water is a main factor affecting soil biogeochemistry, so these changing soil conditions (prolonged flooding and flooding-drying) were the main driver of the study, including land-use change. The study was conducted by a group of multidisciplinary and multi-institutional scientists leaded by Prof Sami Ullah and Dr Yafei Guo from the University of Birmingham (Biogeochemists), Dr Ernesto Saiz from Teesside University (Biogeochemist), Dr Aleks Radu from Lincoln University (Chemist), and Prof Sameer Sonkusale from Tufts University (Engineer). Also, this study was used for testing new sensor prototypes for continuous monitoring of soil ions (potassium, ammonium, nitrate, and pH). The findings suggest that extreme weather and land-use should be consider for the calculations of the Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geodrs.2023.e00697

New paper alert: Invasive species – Dr Jamie Bojko

Human travel and transport has resulted in the introduction of several ‘invasive’ species to new global locations. In one instance, trade routes across Europe have moved freshwater crustaceans from the Ponto-Caspian region (Ukraine/western Russia/etc.) to lakes and rivers across Poland, Germany, France and more. The “tank shrimp” Pontogammarus robustoides, is one such invasive species – it has significant impacts on the ecosystems that it invades. In this case, we conducted a parasitological screening study to look for diseases that this amphipod might carry. We found a huge range of new parasites, from viruses and bacteria to large worms and other parasites. Now that we know of these parasites, we can consider their potential risk to new ecosystems if this species makes it way to other sites, potentially including the invasion of the UK, following in the footsteps of the killer and demon shrimp.

Click here for link to read more:

Histopathological screening of Pontogammarus robustoides (Amphipoda), an invader on route to the United Kingdom – ScienceDirect

Pangolin: the most trafficked mammal in the world

One of nature’s most intriguing species is the pangolin. It is the size of a small dog, covered in scales with a tail like a dinosaur, powerful claws, a long snout, no teeth and a very long serpentine tongue. Pangolins eat ants, termites, and larvae that they pick up using their sticky tongues. To protect themselves from predators, they will curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves. Worldwide, there are eight species, four in Africa and four in Asia with some species living on the ground and others occurring in trees. Sadly, they are regarded as the most trafficked wild mammals in the world, as they are considered culturally significant in Africa and Asia due to their unique appearance and habits. In 2017, a ban on international commercial trade of all eight species took effect. However, despite this, nearly 70 countries and territories have been involved in the illegal pangolin trade in the last decade. A recent news article details how an undercover sting outwitted pangolin traffickers (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-66375281).

To learn more about these fascinating creatures check out some books that Dr Desiré Dalton (Lecturer, Teesside University) has contributed to (https://shop.elsevier.com/books/pangolins/challender/978-0-12-815507-3 and http://opus.sanbi.org/jspui/handle/20.500.12143/8591) or have a look at her research (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27510566/ and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28177847/).

Novel soil monitoring

Dr Ernesto Saiz has visited the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BiFOR) free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiment located in Staffordshire. He was accompanied by some of the PIs of the project he is involved in: Prof Sami Ullah (University of Birmingham) and Prof Sameer Sonkusale (Tufts University), in addition to some other researchers, and a distinguished visiting fellow from the University of Delaware Prof Delphis F. Levia. The main objective was to show the engineers (from Tufts) in-situ what are the main characteristics of the soil (texture and moisture) where the prototypes developed will be deployed. With this visit the engineers can now make the final modifications needed for the device to work wireless in the field. The state-of-the-art sensor probe will be capable of continuous monitoring of potassium, ammonium, nitrate and pH in the soil.

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Pompeii – Climate change impacts

Pompeii is often described as a place frozen in time, when in October 79AD, Vesuvius  erupted and plunged the surrounding areas into darkness for three days, ash and pumice rained down on pompeii.

The site is vast and amazing, covering well over 60 hectares, and walking around today really feels as if you could be back in Roman times. The site has been under investigation for approx three hundred years, but is continually coming up with amazing finds, such as the pizza painting, and further information can be found here youtube clip.

This summer, has been one of the hottest on record, (and it was 35oC when I visited) and Pompeii is trialing modern technologies to help monitor and guard against possible damage from climate change.

The visit really helped develop thoughts and comparisons with other sites, and I am looking forward to using these images in my teaching sessions, where we explore monitoring techniques at different archaeological sites.

Dr Gillian Taylor

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