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!



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


Research Trip: Northampton Leather Course

Hello TUBA blog readers and welcome!

My name is Hrafnhildur Helga, but I am known as Helga outside of my home in Iceland. I have been a PhD student at Teesside University in Northeast England for just around three months now and as such form one part of the TUBA team. My research is still in its early stages, but focuses on the leather shoes and burial environment of Roman Vindolanda. For more information on me, please check out the ‘meet the team‘ section of this website.
As part of my research, I am excited to introduce my first blog post of (hopefully) many, about a research trip I took last week to learn about leather manufacturing first hand.

Continue reading “Research Trip: Northampton Leather Course”