Research Trip – 10th Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum

Hello all!

This weekend, Helga and I attended the 10th Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum at Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, in Hexham. A whole decade since the first forum! This was a day conference dedicated to the general public, with talks about new discoveries or ongoing work along the frontier of Hadrian’s Wall. This year, TUBA were invited to talk about some of the work we have been doing at Vindolanda.

A very keen audience looking forward to the ‘new’ archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall!

Settled in the very cosy theatre room, reminiscent of the intermissions and ice cream trays, we had a warm welcome from David mason followed by some fascinating and masterful geophysics work at Corbridge from Ian Haynes. Following on was Jane Laskey talking about the excavations, history and catastrophic fires of Senhouse Museum collection, Maryport. Honestly, I had never heard of Maryport before but now I know, it looks cute and dainty (minus the fires)!

After a delightful tea and cake break, Rob Collins updated us on the WallCAP project (noting that it’s quite reasonably no longer called WallCLAP). This is a key project at getting locals involved with managing, sustaining and studying Hadrian’s Wall. Finishing off the morning sessions was David Mason again, reviewing the excavations and museum construction at Binchester. This included some  fabulously renovated and decorated Roman bath houses, with one of the best preserved underfloor heating systems in Britain. This marked the end of the morning sessions, with our Vindolanda session starting after. But first, a wander around the Matisse exhibit and a delicious lunch at Buongiorno, which Vindolanda’s resident Italian Marta gave her two thumbs up to!

A wealth of research projects at Vindolanda, so sit back, relax and explore!

Marta Alberti began the hour-long Vindolanda session with a great review of all the exciting work undertaken this year, and what was coming up next year. I took the stage afterwards, talking about the work I’ve been doing with 3D imaging, ox crania, and pXRF (the X-ray gun I spoke about earlier). Helga spoke after about her collection of leather studies and exciting new techniques. This was a fantastic opportunity to introduce the public to some of the science work that TUBA have been doing with Vindolanda!

Concluding the day was Juergen Obmann talking about the various excavations and investigations of wood carried out along the Raetian Limes (with some fantastic photos from ye olden days), and closing remarks from David Mason. And that wrapped out visit to the Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum – bring on next year! And to those looking to volunteer at Vindolanda next year, applications are open from the 6th November.

Saying farewell to Queen’s Hall and the Hadrian’s Archaeology Forum… for now!

See you all soon,


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):

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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!).


Ancient Protein Conference 2018 – Copenhagen

August was conference month for team TUBA. While Rhys gallivanted around Belfast at the European Meeting on Forensic Archaeology, Gillian, Caroline and I travelled over to Copenhagen for the Ancient Protein Workshop. The event has been held every twenty years so far, and it was a great opportunity to be able to attend as the field has seen some massive development in the last few years.

Clear skies outside the conference venue in Copenhagen.

The workshop was located in the University of Copenhagen and the Botanical Gardens. The venue was beautiful, and with the nice warm weather we were able to sit outside in the gardens between sessions. The first day began with a ZooMS workshop where the application of peptide fingerprinting by mass spectrometry was discussed, which can allow archaeologists to identify animal species in cases where more traditional methods have been unsuccessful. One of the main areas this technique has been applied in archaeology is in relation to the sheep/goat problem in zooarchaeology, but differentiating between the two can be very difficult, and is integral to properly understand past farming strategies. Use of the technique to screen for hominin bone fragments at prehistoric sites was also discussed, and was recently applied to identify the offspring of a Neanderthal and Denisovan hominin among thousands of animal bones!

Delegates at the workshop, extra points if you can find us. Photo  from the event photo album.

After the ZooMS session we were offered snacks and drinks at the event reception, where Gillian and Caroline finally joined us after miraculously catching their connection flight with 30 minutes’ layover time and taking a few laps around the venue searching for us. As there is not exactly a great amount of individuals who partake in archaeological protein analysis as a discipline, it was brilliant to find that no less than three classmates from leather school were present. Including myself, both Luise Brandt and Lucy Skinner were at the protein conference and it was absolutely great to properly geek out on the topic of leather protein, which I can’t say has been a hit in other social situations…

We enjoyed a lovely conference dinner at the Carlsberg foundation, where Gillian, Caroline and I secured front row seats to the podium. Photo  from the event photo album.

The next three days were filled with palaeoproteomic talks, fieldtrips to the lab facilities at the University of Copenhagen, a conference dinner and encounters with brilliant and inspiring people from all over. The themes covered included palaeoproteomics in art conservation, amino acid racemization, research into dairying, archaeological artefact applications and new developments and challenges in the field. All of the sessions were great, with my particular favourites being the amino acid racemization sessoin and the methodological and biometric discussions. Most days left me itching to get started on the palaeoproteomic part of my own research and I can’t say I’m short for ideas at the moment. I will be starting the proteomic part of my PhD on the Vindolanda leather in the next few months and it was absolutely brilliant to be able to attend this conference first. I have a much clearer idea of the problems I need to consider at different stages of the analyses, where I can seek help and what methods I can use to counter any problems.

View over Copenhagen.

It was great to see how the overarching theme of almost every session at the conference was cooperation, knowledge- and data sharing. For a quickly growing field like palaeoproteomics, with a relatively small pool of researchers, it made for a very friendly and optimistic atmosphere at the conference.

End-of-conference panel discussion was optimistic and full of great advice.

But enough on proteins (although, is there ever enough?)! Let’s not forget the conference took place in Copenhagen, or what I like to refer to as the promised land. We were lucky enough to be able to stay for two more days in the city, and with a flat location right in the middle of Norrebro it was also a culinary dream.

Hund is snor, lort i pose!

While Gillian and Caroline were good tourists, visiting the mandatory attractions (although they technically only made it to the National Museum and Lego store), it was taco hour for me, and I managed tacos at Hija de Sanchez, La Neta and Restaurant Sanchez. I’d call that great success and the last one of those completely blew my mind, I can still taste that velvety chicken taco. Yum!!

Living that good life.

 I also visited Bœst, an organic Italian restaurant that have their own farm (!), where I had the dreamiest burrata of my entire life, and took a daily trip to Torvehallerne for a dose of Coffee Collective coffee, some Bahn mi or fancy porridge at Grød. That last place is one of my favourites, a brunch place serving only porridge! If you know me at all you’ll know I can’t live without it, but I’ll be the first one to admit it is absolutely hilarious to see a bunch of hip, young Danes and entire families huddled around something as bland as a bowl of porridge.

Gillian and Caroline found the rarely seen lego-Gillian in Copenhagen.

Being dreadfully Scandinavian, I of course took time to hoard some Danish candy, as my recommended daily intake of salmiak has been completely neglected since moving to England. I even tried a new and intriguing brand that did not disappoint, BonBon’s kloak slam, or sewage sludge, in delicious looking orange packaging. I’m already expecting a new Amazon delivery of this little piece of heaven through the letterbox at home.

Nectar of the gods. Also known as sewage sludge. The rat is particularly appetising.

On top of this, the weather was amazing, so I was able to trot around Assistens Kirkegard with ice cream (My second favourite meal after porridge)! I even attempted to spruce up my Danish skills, and was happy to see that I can still manage some very basic communication – all the essentials like ‘hi’, ‘bye’, ‘thank you’ and ‘your dog is very cute’ – and was even complemented for my ability to ask for ‘dagens sild’ (fresh herring) on my smørrebrød! However, I wasn’t able to answer the compliment with anything other than an awkward smile and a thumbs up, pinning my non-Danish feet straight back to the ground. Lordie, I can’t wait to visit this Utopia again!

Smørrebrod med dagens sild, œg og rejer and roastbeef. For me, nothing screams family event like these do. Who’s graduated??


Thanks for reading!



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!

Congratulations, Graduates!

Hip, hip, hooray!

Congratulations to all the students graduating this day, this week, this month and this year (cue the claps from Friends)! There is a whole group of students who worked hard on their projects with TUBA this year, and we couldn’t be more proud!

Is this a graduation version of Where’s Wally? I can see Wizard Whitebeard, but where’s Odlaw..!

Graduation is a great time of year, where both the students and staff are so happy and proud of all the hard work and accomplishments. The campus gets a real buzz – and not a pair of jogger bottoms in sight!

But what did the TUBA graduates do to get here? What was their work with TUBA on? Who are the people behind the graduation regalia? Well, settle down for a quick synopsis and a mini gallery of their smiley faces:

Didn’t I say they had smiley, proud faces? They were well-deserved!

We had Ollie Pepper looking at structural degradation of leather using Scanning Electron Microscopy, Kirsty looking at organic changes in buried woods using FTIR, Talia looking at organic changes in buried bone, Kealey looking at elemental changes in buried bone with the influence of preparation methods, and Jade looking at how we can present all this science nicely at Vindolanda.

Once again, congratulations to you all! We at TUBA wish each and every one of you the best in your future endeavours.



Congratulations to Rhys for winning the Sheppard Frere Prize, a prestigious award for research in Roman archaeology!

Prize giving with Gillian Taylor (left), Rhys Williams (middle) and Andrew Birley (right) and sunny Vindolanda (background)

As you may remember, we recently had several posters presented at the RAC/TRAC conference in Edinburgh. Thanks to the hard work and hours put in by everyone on the TUBA team, we got some great feedback for each poster. Rhys was even awarded the prize for the best and most innovative student poster for his work titled: “Bullseye: Analysis of ox skulls used for target practice at Roman Vindolanda”.

Please, read more about this in an interview over here!


Warm Welcome to Aboli!

We’d like to give a very warm welcome to our newest team member Aboli Sanjay Vavle!

Aboli is an international student from India. She completed her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology in India. During her course, she was a part of a seminar on DNA Fingerprinting and studied modules like Toxicology and Biotechnology Techniques in Forensic Science which influenced her a lot to choose Forensic Science as her subject for Masters degree. For her Master’s final semester project she worked on Secondary transfer and persistence of fibres, which is now submitted to Science and Justice and will be published soon – watch this space. She completed her Masters in Forensic Science from Northumbria University, Newcastle. Following completion of her degree her passion for research in fibres remained and thus, enrolled onto a PhD program to continue this area of research. She is currently a full time PhD student at Teesside University. With good background knowledge in fibres on surfaces, she will now be investigating fibres in buried environment, mainly focusing on degradation of the dyes and how this study can be useful in forensic and archaeological context. Besides science, she is very passionate about singing, reading, travelling, new gadgets and photography. She is a foodie and loves trying out new and different cuisines.

Spectroscopy and Pastry. Is there anything better?

On top of the  need for speed, two members of this research group found themselves in need of a course in spectroscopy this month. Luckily, ThermoFisher Scientific came to our aid, and so new PhD student Aboli and I (hi, this is Helga!) were able to take a trip up to Paisley, Scotland, to be showered with spectroscopic knowledge this week.

Aboli and I took a seat at the back of the room closest to the morning pastries, with direct access to the tea station. Luckily, we both remembered to bring our glasses!

We made our way up to Glasgow and Paisley on Tuesday, staying overnight due to the lack of 5 AM trains from Newcastle (perhaps thankfully). For me, this meant a simple 2 PM train from Newcastle, pit stop in Glasgow for the mandatory Paesano’s pizza (nectar of the gods), and continuing on to Paisley around 7. A nice day of travel, if you ask me. When in Paisley, my trip became substantially more difficult as I was betrayed by the evil map function on my phone, indicating an 11 minute walk, but nothing about it being a steep uphill battle on uneven terrain! Fortunately, the pizza fuelled the hike, and I was glad to be at the guesthouse shortly before 8, just in time to read up on the topics of the course and catch the mandatory true-crime evening podcast.

It wasn’t until much later that Aboli finally arrived, having had a a longer journey and caught out in a monsoon on her way to the guesthouse. Aboli had, unlike me, spent the day in Middlesbrough for a research induction, catching the 1 and a half hour bus back up to Newcastle where she lives at 5AM to grab her bags, and then finally arriving in Glasgow 10.30 PM. That’s only about 7 hours of travel for you, on two buses and four trains, so I decided not to complain (too much) about my annoying 11 minute rain-free hike.

Our comfy rooms where we could relax and have some sleep.

Surely, we (or at least Aboli) deserved a good night’s sleep at that point, but although the rooms were surprisingly nice and comfy at the guesthouse, the shared bathroom door was broken, resulting in loud bangs every half-hour or so throughout the night, and the occasional panicked noise of a person thinking they were locked in. I have had less-scary nights of sleep, but unfazed by this we woke up early the next morning and got ourselves up to ThermoFisher’s headquarters at the Inchinnan industrial estate.

Praise be, is there anything better than pastries in the morning?

Much to our joy, we were of welcomed by the smell of hot tea, coffee and pastries, meaning we soon forgot all about the door of doom at the guesthouse. It was time to sit down and listen, as we learned about FTIR and Raman Spectroscopy sampling techniques, analysis and various microanalytical methods. The seminar was very helpful to us both, and covered a range of methodological bases, analytical considerations and instrumental differences, leaving us with a much clearer idea of how to proceed with our respective projects. I am excited to see what information the two methods can give me with regard to the structural state of the Vindolanda leathers. Although I have used the FTIR several times before, I feel a lot more confident in my methodology having attended this seminar and look forward to trying out Raman spectroscopy in the next few months.


It was warm and cosy inside during the seminar, but we could hear the Scottish rain and wind outside beating the windows. Unfortunately I felt right at home in these conditions…

Aboli also enjoyed it. Both FTIR and Raman spectroscopy will be of good use for her research into fibres, as they will help her determine composition of the fibres and help discriminate colours. She has used and studied FTIR during her Masters course, but like me felt like she gained a lot more advanced and in-depth information, making it easier to plan her research methodology effectively.

ThermoFisher ID cards made us feel sufficiently professional for the occasion!

The seminar lasted until 4PM, when we were lucky enough to catch a ride back to the Paisley station, thanks to a fellow spectroscopy enthusiast. When in Glasgow, we had intended to grab dinner before our train back, but unfortunately ThermoFisher fed us too well during the spectroscopy course (thanks!), so instead we spent a few hours catching up on work at Starbucks. No complaints there, and as soon as we hit the train back at 7 it was again time for my true-crime podcast of the evening, before hitting the platform home in Newcastle.

Mandatory tourist shot of Glasgow City Centre, taken about 5 minutes after I walked onto a mime mid-act. My bad!

  Thanks to i Scientific for hosting this event and to Teesside University for letting us have this experience!

Helga and Aboli


I feel the need, the need for speed

It has been a great couple of months for Bioarchaeology research group, we have seen a wide range activities, we presented posters at RAC/TRAC, including winning the student prize – a great showcase for our work with Vindolanda – many congratulations to Rhys Williams, we have welcomed a new started Aboli Valve – whom will be starting work on archaeological fibres, we presented at the annual School research day, successfully completed 10 undergraduate projects, again including one which was awarded the school poster prize, so it is time for a rest!! Not at all, the planning of the instrumentation for the National Horizons Centre is continuing and there will be some exciting news on this in the coming months ahead, if you do want to work with us in the field of proteomics, metabolomics, bio-imaging, chemical characterisation using Raman, FTIR and many more, please do get in touch.

One of my conference highlights this year as group leader, is my attendance at ASMS in San Diego. What a fantastic conference, great location and I just love the American hospitality.

Firstly the conference, this is the premier mass spectrometry conference in the world, with over 7K attendees, this is the only conference where the app has kept me on track, literally.. I can easily clear 15K steps in one day! I am confused by the concept of cheese popcorn which seems to be a mid afternoon snack favourite.

Secondly the oral sessions, amazing range of topics, and the speakers are excellent. Some of my highlights have included MasSpec Pen for detecting cancer, MALDI imaging advances, workshops for indepth discussion of recent techniques – art and cultural history application, SPME applications. I have especially enjoyed the breakfast seminars, who doesn’t want to wake up listening to a mass spectrometry talk at 7am!! And finish the day at 7pm with workshops, that’s before you even dare the hospitality suites which are open until 11pm! Packed days.. fantastic..

Thirdly the poster session, this is excellent, over 800 posters (hence the need of an app!), great to speak to so many presenters, including grad students who are enthusiastic, dedicated and eager to discuss their scientific work.
Already planning ASMS 2019…

A final note San Diego is amazing, who wouldn’t want palm trees and sunny weather.. but what is more amazing is spending 7 days completely immersed in mass spectrometry and meeting fellow scientists who are more than happy to discuss techniques, instrumentation.. This is so valuable in our digital age when we forget how important it is to meet, discuss and debate.

My daily commute to the convention centre passes a café which should be immortalised, I posted the image on twitter with a quote from the song ‘great balls of fire’, but embarrassingly then I thought that most of the attendees weren’t even born when this was released!

Research Trip – What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?

Good afternoon!

This week, TUBA attended the Roman Archaeology and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (RAC/TRAC), dubbed the “premier international event devoted to Roman archaeology”. Some may wonder, what have the Romans ever done for us? Well, the conference featured no conspirators in a darkened room, no masked activists, although there was a Matthias (and probably a Reg, Stan and Francis too), and certainly an ominous mist coating the city. Despite the absence of Monty Python sketches, the RAC/TRAC did enlighten the audience on many aspects of Roman life, many of which still influence life today. And here, we’re going to share with you just a snapshot of our time there!

This year, RAC/TRAC was held at Edinburgh, a truly fascinating city with a wealth of knowledge and hidden treasures. There are also some questionable “treasures”, that is, if you consider a pocketbook made out of the tanned skin from the buttocks of the late William Burke as a treasure. If that, and the other pathological displays housed in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum sound a bit too morbid for you, then just round the corner is the marvellous and deceptively massive National Museums Scotland.

The world’s largest balloon sculpture. We struggled to find words to describe this, um, art too. But don’t worry, there are legitimately amazing displays across the museums, like this lil’ guy diving for cover from wolves!

The conference itself (I mean, that IS why we visited Edinburgh!) covered such a diverse range of topics, including architecture, crafting, gardens, identity, recycling, shopping, stable isotopes, wars, water, writing, and even dogs, across five simultaneous sessions. It may not come as a surprise to you, but the TUBA team were definitely in keen attendance to the talks covering Vindolanda, Hadrian’s Wall, leather and graves! In fact, one talk suggested the discovery of a new Roman god called Bregneus, though they emphasised that it’s early days and their upcoming excavations shall hopefully shed some light on these curse tablets dedicated to Bregneus.

Now, what conference wouldn’t hold some form of reception or party, eh? Well, in keeping with the location, there was a Scottish Ceilidh (it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to learn how to pronounce it). Imagine line dancing, but with kilts and out-of-breath dancers. Just one song was more tiring than an ABBA boogie marathon! Fortunately, these two left feet decided to co-operate for the first time, even whilst being filmed!

Ceilidhs are officially the most difficult thing to photograph, especially whilst still panting for air. Sorry Helga!

Not to play favouritism here, but the best session was perhaps the workshop on multiple 10-minute discussions covering experimental archaeology, writing up research, and how to present our findings. Some truly pertinent debates that, frankly, need addressing across the whole of academia. However, the most exciting bit was the true reason why TUBA attended the conference. Poster day!! The third and final day saw the TUBA team have their posters on display.

Bullseye- they hit the target nearly 60 times!
Walking a mile in Roman shoes (but not literally!)

I may over-exaggerate here, but the posters went down such a storm! People loved coming up and playing with the 3D scans and printed objects, proving these to be such an effective way of engaging the public with museum exhibits without endangering them. People were so engaged, we even missed both the coffee breaks AND lunch, without getting hangry (hungry and angry)!

After some final talks and celebrations of a successful conference, we headed off back to Teesside University, but not before heading to the top of the National Museum and Castle Rock, getting some spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle looking out at the city.

Who ever said it always rained in Scotland? There was a good 2 hours of sunshine and spectacular views on the way home!

Edinburgh, it’s truly been a pleasure. Many thanks to the RAC/TRAC organisers, and the bursaries awarded to us by the Barbican Research Associates and the Roman Research trust for making this visit possible.

Until next time!