INQUA 2023 – Roma, Italy

INQUA 2023 was held in Rome 13th-20th July, Sapienza University. The congress was opened by the President of Italy, in the most amazing lecture theater. The congress covers quaternary sciences, but includes human evolution, anthropocene, climate records, processes and models. The climate discussions were a very hot topic (!!) with rome reaching a record temperature of 41.8oC. Despite this, conference organizers did a superb job to help attendees, the lunch and coffee break sessions were fantastic.

We had two presentations, firstly by Dr Caroline Orr – Microbial and chemical characterisation from occupation contexts involved in the preservation of Roman writing tablets, and secondly Dr Gillian Taylor –  Monitoring peatlands changes at the Roman site of Magna, Northumberland, UK.

Talks and poster sessions were well attended (higher for those in airconditioned rooms!), the quality, expertise and diversity of the talks makes this the best conference I have been too in a long time.

Florida comes to Vindolanda

One of the highlights of research is being able to share your enthusiasm with visitors, and this week Dr Jamie Bojko and Dr Gillian Taylor hosted a group of students from University of Florida at Vindolanda and Magna.

The students were from diverse subject areas, but were fascinated by the talk from CEO Vindolanda Excavations – Dr Andrew Birley showing wooden structure from the earliest roman fort and (after a small hill and hot walk!) the stunning views that Hadrians Wall has to offer. The weather was hot but apparently cool in comparison to florida! The group from Behringer lab were travelling around the UK, as part of the studies, seeing amazing locations and experiencing a wide range of activities, such as snorkelling, rock climbing, hiking stunning coastlines.

The pictures are taken from some of the activities on the wall and UK.. simply stunning..

Talk to Teesside Archaeological Society – Dr Gillian Taylor

It was a great pleasure to be invited to give a talk for the Teesside Archaeological Society. This is a great society to interact and get involved with, so take a look at there website of events over the summer.

The talk was called ‘What the Romans left behind: chemical signatures from occupation layers’  and focused on analytical chemistry, the talk was inspired and taken from our recent frontiers publication, which sounds rather more complicated and boring!! ‘Archaeological soil from Roman occupation layers can be differentiated by microbial and chemical signatures’.   Thankfully I focused on the chemistry and leave the microbial parts to Dr Caroline Orr. The chemistry part focused on faeces, how do we extract, what do we look for and why it is important to know about activity, the talk talked about horse stables, and showed recent pictures of the excavation, the cook house floor and how we can tentatively infer from the soil smell what was going on 2,000 years ago!

But any talk is not complete without discussing climate change and talking about our new lottery heritage funded project, Roman Magna, a site under threat and changing, and I presented some of the data we are recording and how we are using the data.. There is an amazing new dig diary to follow. I will be at the magna site and presenting work at conferences in the summer so also watch this space for updates..


An evening at Pint of Science Festival – Aboli Vavle

As a PhD student who is in her final year and writing her thesis, it gets incredibly stressful. But there are few things that can help you relax and I had one such evening last week. I was asked if I could give a little talk in an event called Pint of Science. If you are not aware, Pint of Science is a science festival that takes place over 3 days in five hundred cities around the world where local researchers go to their local pubs and cafes and discuss their research with members of public over a glass of pint! And I think it is one of the best ways to talk about your research.

So, on 24th May around 5:30 in the evening, all of us presenting gathered in a café closer to the Uni, Off the Ground where Rhys and Helen had organised the event. We started presentations a little after 6 p.m. The theme for the evening was ‘Microscopic Missions’ and I was supposed to go first. But my husband, Jack wanted to be there for the talk and because of his work, he was running late. Zoe, who is currently in 2nd year of her PhD very kindly agreed to go first and very wonderfully presented her topic about antimicrobial resistance where she talked about ‘superbugs’ and how they are a threat and can possibly cause the next pandemic. Luckily, Jack made it before my talk.

My topic was ‘A Secret Life of Dyes’ where I talked about ancient dyes and how they were important in different civilization. This was followed by, why it is important to study dyes as well as the difficulties that come with it and potential solutions. I also talked about any how different analytical methods especially the less-destructive ones are getting more importance and talked about how useful these methods are. I kept the talk light, without using heavy scientific words to make sure the audience is not lost or confused. I also explained chromatography and its principle with a lovely animation to explain HPLC and some of the audience came to me and said that my presentation was quite easy to follow. I was extremely pleased about this, as that’s what I was aiming for. Also, the presentation was full of colourful pictures which made it more interesting and attractive. Overall, the talk was received very well, and I got some very interesting questions about investigating dyes, which I was very happy to answer and discuss.

We then had a little break where the audience interacted with us, asking us questions and doubts, which was so amazing. The event ended with talk by Dom, who is a lecturer in microbiology. He gave a great talk about how radiations are used to understand microsporidia. He had these cool lasers to demonstrate reflections of green and red colours which all of us thought were remarkably interesting.

Overall, the event was a wonderful experience for all of us. Evenings or discussions like these should be organised more often as they help spread the information to people who are interested in these findings and topics regardless of how much background knowledge they have. It helps us as researchers as well to talk about our work in a less stressful environment and spread the knowledge. Here’s to more event like these!

Digging up Memories – Making a Digital Exhibit

You may remember a previous blog post when we set out 3D scanning a whole range of different wooden artefacts for the Digging up Memories – Making Connections online exhibit with Vindolanda Museum. Well here we are, looking back at all the successes and improvements after the exhibit was released to the world! We’ve recently written about online exhibits in the book Hadrian’s Wall: Exploring Its Past to Protect Its Future, but here we’re going to review through our recently published paper on the Digging up Memories exhibit.

This exhibit focused on the precious objects that comprise the Wooden Underworld collection at Vindolanda. Objects were selected by museum workers, volunteers and contributors to ensure co-curation in the exhibit, branching the breadth of roles at Vindolanda Museum. The exhibit was held on the Vindolanda website to help ongoing public engagement during limited visitation times and beyond, still remaining accessible today.

The Digging up Memories landing page – a whole range of different themes and objects to explore!

Our early priority was multimedia excitement. Yes that sounds like a bit of a buzzy phrase but essentially, we want several types of media to engage the different preferences and interests of our audience. This meant not just 3D models but also photos, sound bites, video interviews, voice recordings of contributors, lectures, creative writing, published reports, all sorts! Clearly this had some attentive impact, achieving an average 1 minute 35 seconds spent viewing per page (compared to the “typical” museum exhibit times of half a minute).

Now you may be wondering, which objects were the most popular? First, why not take a look at the exhibit yourself and pick out which one is your favourite!

Had a look? Great! The Things We Share page was the most visited, with the Toy Sword achieving the most views overall. Personally, we love the toy sword – Rhys even gave an interview about it in the exhibit!

A key question was “so… was it worthwhile?”. Yes! We had so much valuable feedback but the most valuable measure for us was that 88% of respondents felt encouraged to look further into Vindolanda and Roman history. Now that is a clear success for museums hosting online exhibits! If you’re interested in setting up your own online exhibit, check out the publication which goes into more detail, and offers suggestions and recommendations for future projects.

Isn’t technology great?

Climate change monitoring

One year has now past since Dr Gillian Taylor was involved in the installation of a weather station at Fort Magna. It is not just a weather station but also monitors ground chemistry to help us understand seasonal changes. The data has been fascinating and watch this space for updates on conference presentations later in the year..

Not content with one weather stations, in April 2023, the team also installed a similar system, provided by Van Walt across the Vindolanda site, monitoring more chemistry, more conditions and importantly watching those anaerobic areas very carefully, as we all know by now, the anaerobic conditions are important for the preservation of artefacts.

There are two other blogs posts, whom have written about the adventures of putting in the new system, so enjoy the link

LIMES 2022 – Nijmegen

What an amazing week attending the LIMES Congress in Nijmegen. This was my first LIMES congress, so not sure what to expect.. so here is a run down of the events and my thoughts.

Day 1 – so many talks, in so many different rooms, what an outstanding start.. so many free books, I had to rethink my packing and this was day one! One of my highlights was seeing ‘The missing dead’ session about reconstructing the past through digital games play at Roman Vindolanda. I will be bias as a Vindolanda Trustee member but the future thinking was a great talking point with the audience.

Day 2 – first day trip… and I mean all day 7.30 start and back at 8pm… but what a day, when walking round the archaeological sites, Roman Castellum, Meinerswijk, Military practice camps, Uedem and Xanten-Furstenberg, before heading to LVR Archaologischen park Xanten, at the end of the day, the exquisite and beautiful museum was just awe inspiring.


Day 3 – The day I had been waiting for, which included the organic riches session… and it didn’t disappoint, chaired by Carol Van Driel-Murray and speakers including Beth Green showed the importance of understanding our artefacts, the discussion came to end with a query about impacts of climate change upon these artefacts, exactly at the right time for us to say a comment about our climate change work at the Roman site of Magna.

There was an evening visit to Valkhof museum, with of course some special LIMES beer

Day 4 – second day trip and this was an absolute highlight for me, the Roman Ship at Castellum Hoge Woerd ‘De Meern 1’  and the wonderful world of Archeon Museum park,  walking through from Mesolithic to the Romans and everything in-between. The hospitality was spectacular, and a delicious BBQ to finish the day. Have to mention the heat, at 34o°C… finding shade and heading inside as often as possible was the order of the day.

Day 5 – Its not the end of the week for us, Fridays talk started with churches in military outposts and a very full session with a talk from CEO Vindolanda Trust – Dr Andrew Birley.

Day 6 – yip still going and it is Saturday, lots of bright early starters to attend the Feeding the Frontier talks, followed by Roman Britian led by Tanja Romankiewicz, as David Breeze said during questions, ‘exceptional’ talk from Tanja – military construction strategies on the Limes: new insights from geoarcheology.

If I didn’t mention your talk, sorry, so much to see, so many pancakes to eat..

Roll on Georgia, what an inclusive, friendly and engaging series of talks and events

Outreach… Lovely day in the sun

As academics we are good at standing up and talking about our topics, often in a lecture theatre, following a schedule so the students know what we are taking about and know the science behind it.

However, when it comes to public outreach,  you can be faced with an unknown audience, who are not familiar with every detail, which can put you out of your comfort zone.. so why should I be encouraging you to do it and reasons to do outreach sessions.

Here are my 5 top reasons:-

  1. To introduce science to a young or older audience in a meaningful way – recently I spoke to a allotment group about our work at Magna, relating what we are seeing to soil chemistry to what plants they were growing!
  2. Use your audience – you will meet fascinating people doing outreach, whom have a wealth of experience, listen and learn
  3. Use data but don’t simplified explain the facts – science data can sometimes be impenetrable.. the public love data but it must be explain in a meaningful way, also think, why does this matter to them.
  4. Professional development – i have learnt so much about why i do and what i do from engaging in public talks – someone once asked me what drives me and the answer for me is simple, i love learning new things, figuring out problems.. i have not lost that passion for walking into the science in over 20 years and don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
  5. Energised – It is an absolute pleasure being able to talk about your subject and engage, getting others excited but also feeling as even if just a little bit, you have made a difference.

Over the next few weeks, we are off to LIMES  and EAA, with some museums and adventures on the way, so stayed tuned for updates.

TUBA on the Tube! BBC Countryfile Meets Archaeology

If you’re interested in people, places and stories making news in the British countryside, and appreciate a bit of good BBC programming, then we’re sure you’d love to catch the next episode of Countryfile, tonight at 8pm, 7th August, BBC Two. We’re particularly excited for this episode because it features a strong segment of excavations and climate research at Vindolanda and Fort Magna, including some of the chemical and microbial analysis we’ve been undertaking!

Talking through some of the many scientific experiments on the go!

Why is our science research so important to old, buried fields? Well, Fort Magna is next to a substantial bog with conditions similar to the excellent preservation seen at Vindolanda. However, the gradual impact of climate change has resulted in a significant reduction of the preserving bog due to the soils drying out. Consequently, the bogs are compacting on themselves, crushing the archaeology within. You can see this clearly in drone footage, where the top of a Roman well is now exposed above the ground. This is now occurring at an alarming pace due to the rapid increase in global warming and climate change, endangering the history beneath our feet.

And so, TUBA’s role here is to conduct ongoing surveys into the soil across the site, looking at the past, current and potential future of the burial conditions; are we maintaining an anaerobic and slightly acidic environment? Are the areas of Roman occupations still kept within waterlogged conditions? Is the microbial profile remaining unchanged and non-degenerative? How far out does the site go, and how close to the edge of the bog does it reach? Using a combination of chemical and microbial analyses with the multidisciplinary team at  TUBA will shed some light on these questions and help answer some key questions in the maintenance and management of British heritage.

We hope you get a chance to catch the episode – we had so much fun and were proud to take part in this filming for Countryfile alongside Vindolanda!


Researcher Live Event

I have just finished my first podcast! I must admit I was slightly nervous, just me in my office talking to a screen.. but i think with covid restrictions and how we delivered lectures, it was all fine as we are all practiced in this format, so fine infact I got to deliver this podcast with my slippers on!

I created the title months ago.. “Determining mass, why it is important and why it matters”, to be frank i wasn’t sure what to include and in the end had many many slides, I think I wanted to draw attention to our great archaeology work but also to the great work done within the field.. and err that is alot in 1 hr!

If you want to listen… here is the link: Determing mass, why it is important and why it matters? – Researcher (

So what did I learn form my first podcast

  1. Be comfortable
  2. Even if you go off on tangents, that is what podcasts are about, but bring it back to the facts
  3. Don’t prepare too many slides!
  4. KEEP to time… I did, but I forgot to leave enough time for questions overrun by 4 minutes!
  5. Just do it