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!

TUBA

(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.

TUBA

Congratulations!

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!

TUBA

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.

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!

TUBA

Sunday Surprise! Sneak Peak at our Upcoming Research

This week, the TUBA team visited Vindolanda to carry out some analysis ready for the RAC/TRAC conference next month. After a drive through the roads waving over the hills, past the remnants of snow refusing to melt away, we arrived with instruments in hand ready to power through bundles of fabulous artefacts. We had attempted the voyage two weeks ago but Vindolanda was snowed in for EIGHT DAYS!

Now, we can’t give away too many details, or we’ll spoil the surprises for our conference post. But how about this for a sneak peek? First, Rhys was using the 3D scanner to model skulls and arrows. Thanks to him, the room had to be plunged into darkness all day. Fortunately the sun wasn’t shining, or that would have been a shame to miss!

Spending the day scanning away!

Next, we have Helga using the X-ray Fluorescence analyser on a wealth of artefacts rich in vivianite. Her ability to concentrate and precisely balance the scanner all day was more than impressive!

What do the results say? Find out soon!

And finally, TUBA members Caroline and Gillian enjoyed a great discussion with visitor Dr Elizabeth Greene over posters for the conference, Vindolanda discoveries, and leather preservation.

We hope you’re satisfied with that sneak peek. Look out for our conference-special post coming next month!

TUBA Team

P.S. what Sunday blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning food? If you’re visiting Vindolanda, definitely visit the café, it’s delightful!

And the theme for this post is…

Progress!

Our project students are getting started with their intensive semester of lab work, progressing toward their final piece of work. Ollie is using SEM to look at the condition of leather after being buried in the trial microcosms laid last year, and comparing it against various different animal leathers. Kirsty is using FTIR to look at changes in the wood samples after burial.

Kirsty drilling the wood for powder. Strictly lab work here!

Talia and Kealey are looking at the differences between pre-sectioned and intact bone after being buried, with Talia using FTIR and Kealey using XRF. Talia expects to see a change in the crystallinity of bone (alterations in the structure of molecules). Kealey is looking into ion exchange, or rather, uptake and leaching between the bone and the soil.

Kealey getting ready to clean the gack from her bone samples. Don’t put your hands in the sonicator or you might shatter your wrist!

Helga is being a busy bee! her project is taking a bit of a proteomics turn as she’s looking into the proteins and collagen degradation of archaeological leather.  Whilst doing this, she’s also been writing up her progression report, ready to submit before shooting off to Amsterdam to see ol’ Kendrick Lamar!

Helga practicing her supreme reading wizardry

Finally, Rhys has passed his progression presentation, where he discussed his research into bone diagenesis and the dynamic, complex conditions at Vindolanda. He can now continue his exciting work with Vindolanda in the second year of his PhD- excellent news!

Rhys showing his levitating bone trick during progression

Until next time!

TUBA Team

 

Starting to See What the Soil Says

Hello all!

Recently, the TUBA team has been investigating how best to analyse soil at Vindolanda. This is very important- I mean, it IS what makes up the site. And so, Helga and myself have been trialling ICP-MS and XRF. But before any of that, we donned our chef hats and got to cooking, though by cooking, we were heating up soil to remove the moisture and determine how much organic matter is lost after heating.
Doesn’t sound so tasty, I know. But look at the lovely array of brown, like looking at a student’s first attempt at a dinner party!   Continue reading “Starting to See What the Soil Says”

Research Trip- 8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting

This week, I had the utmost pleasure of going to the ‘8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting’ conference. Founded by Robert Hedges in Oxford in 1988, the Bone Diagenesis Meeting has been held every four years across Europe and Africa, with the eighth meeting back in (temporarily) sunny Oxford. Pop the kettle on and put your feet up, because today I’m going to share my experience there with you!

Magdalen College, Quidditch pitch and corridor of many a movie. If TUBA ever has to relocate, I know where my vote goes!

Continue reading “Research Trip- 8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting”

Six months down; Plenty more research to go!

Hello TUBA followers!

I’m Rhys, member and admin of TUBA, though I am often referred to as “the bone man” among TUBA members, readers, and other research groups. I have been a graduate tutor at Teesside University for six months. During this time, I have been teaching bone labs, writing articles, and researching and designing experiments for my PhD on the processes of diagenesis and preservation in bone. For more information on me, check out the ‘Meet the Team‘ page
For my first blog post, I’m going to share a little of these with you today. Keep tuned for more!

Continue reading “Six months down; Plenty more research to go!”