Research Trip – A Tremendous Time at TRACamp

Good evening everybody!

This weekend, we had the utmost pleasure to attend TRACamp (Theoretical Roman Archaeology Camp) at the glorious Vindolanda. And it really was glorious – clear, sunny skies all weekend despite the miserable forecast for the whole of the UK all weekend!

Vindolanda is almost like something out of a Wizard of Oz scene, so magical!

TRACamp, tag-lined ‘putting theory into practice’, is an experimental archaeology workshop dedicated to our good old friends, the Romans. This was an excellent opportunity to really see what some aspects of Roman life was like. It’s all well and good writing about some of the food they ate, but how about actually making and, better yet, eating it!?

The first day was set as more formal conference proceedings, with presentations given throughout the day. I’ll be honest, I do drift in and out of attention despite how interested I am (don’t we all?). But this time, I was fully hooked into the entirety of each talk, they were so engaging, interesting, and clear! We had glass bangle production, how tulip shaped pots allowed easy decoration,  musical instrument reconstructions, fishponds and the literal tonnes of bass they caught, natural lighting in a Roman home (never forget your lamp when you go to the toilet!), fish sauce and salted brine, fish hook and net weaving, reconstruction of dye stations, the use and lifeline of oil lamps, and my own paper on 3D imaging of target practice (I’d love to add a photo but you really can’t take a selfie mid-presentation), and a tour of the excavation site to conclude the presentations nicely.

You might need to bring your swimming costumes next time you dig here!

Now it was time to quell the rumbling stomachs and reconvene for dinner at the Twice Brewed Inn. It was definitely a weird experience – the food was good and conversation flowing, but there seemed to be some sort of fancy dress party next to us. And what was their theme? That puzzled us all! Roman meets Braveheart meets golfers meets Newcastle football (one person combined them all into one, with a roman helmet, Geordie shirt, a kilt and rather rude body painting!). After a long day and bellies filled with food, everybody was about ready to crash out ready for the next big day full of demonstrations and workshops.

And what demonstrations they were! This was truly where experimental archaeology shines, engaging the public with Roman heritage. Excuse the photo dump, but the pictures really do tell the stories here (they may look a tad small on your phone):

This is what I love about public outreach. In my case, many people walked past the original cranium in the display and paid little attention to it. However, they came up for anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, discussing all the small features in detail, running their own investigations of the ox cranium, and learning about 3D imaging, 3D printing, the trauma analysis, and lives of Roman archers at Vindolanda. Better yet, the parents would ask their child what they thought the models were, only to be quizzed back (and almost lectured!) on what everything was, with a gleam in their eyes. Looks like we had some future archaeologists amongst us! And to put the cherry on the cake, it’s fantastic to have someone come up and say “hey, I know you, I follow the TUBA blog!”.

What weapon caused what hole? Was it fleshy? Where did they fire from? Time to find out!

It’s very difficult to pick out which demonstration surprised and affected me the most (I’m not taking the cheap way out and voting for my own!). However, I’ll definitely admit that I wasn’t expecting the fish sauce to be so… nice! I’m not into fish at all but dipping the melon into the sweet and powerful, lingering taste that just kept giving for a solid 30 minutes, I may be a bit of a convert. Plus, I’m all up for food.

Massive thank you to  Lee A. Graña and Matthew J. Mandich for organising TRACamp, and to Vindolanda for providing a sublime venue! It was absolutely worthwhile for everyone; delegates, demonstrators and the public. Now excuse me whilst I rest my voice for a bit, I think I was a bit too keen with my display and the six hours of constant talking has left me with nout but a whisper (no regrets though!).


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