Special Delivery!

Extra extra, read all about it!

We have just a mini bumper post (you lucky people, two posts in one week!). This week, we got our copies of the Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology magazine, an annual summary of work along the Wall. It ties perfectly with the Hadrian’s Wall Forum we attended last weekend!

And better yet…  a fantastic Vindolanda section, with our scientific research there, is featured right in the middle! Thanks to David Mason for making possible – pick up a copy and enjoy!

(Before you ask and claim this is a plug, no, we don’t get any royalties!)

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!).


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.

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!


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!


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…


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!