Research Trip – European Meeting on Forensic Archaeology

Hello all! What’s the craic?

This week, I had the pleasure of attending the 7th European Meeting on Forensic Archaeology (EMFA), in Belfast (where craic means something very different, you scoundrels!). So, relax inside away from the sudden cold weather, ready for me to share my experience with you!

Queen’s University Belfast is quite the picturesque campus!

This conference covered such a wide variety of content. Radiocarbon dating, geophysics, volatile compounds (the smelly stuff), trafficking, rituals, 3D analysis, WWI and WWII, grave identification, drones, and even sea burials. Better yet, all the content as made easy to understand regardless of your background – fantastic job to all the presenters! We also had demonstrations of ground penetrating radar, the human bone lab, and the GIS lab (a layered site mapping system). I love when conferences sprinkle extra bits of these hands-on demonstrations and workshops!

During the coffee and lunch breaks, I took the time to demonstrate the 3D imaging work that I’ve been doing with Vindolanda (which I hope some of you are familiar with!). This study was a look into how we can really engage people with the sense of discovery in museums. EMFA had flash poster presentations, which were new to me but I instantly loved the idea. Posters can be somewhat forgotten about, left at the back of the coffee room. Instead, you’re given 30-60 seconds to advertise and summarise your poster in front of the audience. How could I turn such an opportunity down! Like dangling a carrot (or maybe a trowel?), the digital and 3D printed models were offered to everyone to discover what happened to the cranium for themselves, with great success!

Showing off the 3D wizardry that survived the trip (unlike my lunch, which didn’t survive past 10am)

Okay okay, enough trumpet-blowing for now, and more of Belfast. If you ever visit Belfast, you must visit the Titanic Museum. It’s incredible the things a museum can do with a couple great ideas. Oh, and a £94 million investment helps too, of course. My potential 3D imaging was blown out the water by their use of special effects, amusement rides, full-room film displays and boarding the SS. Nomadic itself. I might have sneaked a peak at the remnants of some Game of Thrones sets though (legally, I’ll add). Season 8 spoiler given at the end of the post!!

Viewing the Titanic Museum, Hotel and dockyards from the SS Nomadic. A massive building, complete with a mini moat. I felt even shorter than normal!

Back to the conference, and onto something more solemn, but essential. For myself, and many others, the presentation by Inspector Mark Roberts stood out the most. Rather than sharing new research, Mark discussed the mental health aspect of death investigations, and the structure he’s placed in his own investigation teams. Although this isn’t such an issue within archaeology thanks to the historical aspect preventing a personal impact, forensic archaeology can involve more modern, and disturbing, remains. The necessity of support throughout the career, and refraining from personalising, was poignant to many.

Whilst in Belfast, I of course took the chance to explore the many wonderful things that Northern Ireland has to offer. What kind of trip would this be without visiting the Giant’s Causeway! Millions of years ago, a volcanic fissure eruption occurred, causing tens of thousands of these hexagonal rock columns to push up. I’ll admit, I much prefer the legend, where the giant Finn McCool threw rocks into the sea to form a bridge and pick a fight with a massive giant in Scotland. Brawl of the century!…. except Finn was scared and disguised as a baby. Though Giant’s Causeway is quite the geological spectacle, the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge really won me over. Passing Stackaboy and Sheep Island (which I’m sorry, but are ridiculously fantastic island names), you cross the swaying rope bridge onto a small island. You become secluded from everyone else as you across the sea toward Scotland, Ireland and Rathlin Island, the fresh ocean air against your face.

You feel peaceful climbing Giant’s Causeway and reaching the rope bridge, until your blood pressure goes crazy when peering over cliff edges and swaying on the bridge.

The conference finished with a Belfast murder casework tour given by Dr. Alastair Ruffellorganiser of the 7th EMFA. His insight into the political history of Belfast, detail of the various murder cases, and whimsical commentary, was captivating. You couldn’t help but feel a little stunned as you go past the imposing Peace Wall and abundant remnants of the Troubles.

25 ft high, 3 miles long, and gates that lock at 6 pm… Peace Wall Belfast imposes and divides communities well past its 6-month temporary placement.

Meeting new, familiar and old colleagues at conferences is always the highlight. Now excuse me as I wander through the botanic gardens, intoxicated by the gorgeous smells of the rose gardens, Victorian glasshouse, and herbaceous border (which was, well, herbaceous). I’m off to Kelly’s Cellars, unchanged from 1720 and home to the best pint of Guinness in all of Belfast – the conference pack’s recommendation, so it would be rude not to!


Until next time!


(and EMFA 2018!)



P.S. Ready for your Game of Thrones spoiler?

Season 8 GoT! A huge King’s Landing with scorching and rubble. As expected from those pesky dragons!

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