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!”

Vindolanda’s feature in The Chronicle

The impressive shoe collection at Vindolanda has been featured in an article by The Chronicle. Over 7,000 shoes so far have been excavated from Vindolanda, including indoor, outdoor, military, decorative, and child footwear. Despite this huge number, little is known about them and the residents of Vindolanda.

TUBA is currently investigating which animals were used to make the leather shoes, and whether they were sourced locally or imported. This will help to explain more of the history of Vindolanda and Roman Britain.

A very interesting read- follow this link or click the photo for more information!

 

Welcome!

Welcome to the Teesside University Bioarchaeology (TUBA) blog

Bioarchaeology is the study of human remains and associated artefacts in the archeological context. TUBA is a unique group in archaeology by having members across a range of disciplines, including chemistry, microbiology, anthropology, archaeology, and ecology, among several others.

TUBA is currently researching the chemical and biological processes of diagenesis and preservation at Vindolanda, the infamous Roman military fort and World Heritage site located along Hadrian’s Wall. This will improve the management of unique environments and artefacts.

We look forward to showing you our experiments, findings, and updating you on other research that the team will be doing. Thank you for your visit!

TUBA

Vivianite on Wood

This image shows the adherence of vivianite on wood recovered at Vindolanda.

Untreated wood normally degrades whilst buried due to rot and bacterial attack. The conditions at Vindolanda preserve wood exceptionally well. Vindolanda is known particularly well for its preservation of wooden tablets with handwritten correspondence. These adherence of vivianite into the wooden tablets seem to have helped preserve them over millennia of burial. TUBA is researching how vivianite adheres to wood, and how wood degrades at Vindolanda.

Vindolanda Site

This image shows part of the excavations currently underway at Vindolanda.

Vindolanda is a Roman military fort and World Heritage site settlement located along Hadrian’s Wall, the furthest North that the Romans ventured. Vindolanda is a World Heritage site known for its excellent preservation of materials that degrade quickly at other sites. Vindolanda houses an impressive leather shoe collection, and wooden tablets containing some of the oldest handwritten letters in the UK. These are preserved so well because of the environmental conditions at Vindolanda. TUBA is investigating these conditions and why material is preserved so well, to then apply these processes to other forensic and archaeological investigations.