Digitising Vindolanda Workshop

Last week, TUBA had the fantastic opportunity to place our research directly in the public’s hands and show them just what happens behind the scenes at Vindolanda Museum. As you may well already know, I’m a tad passionate about breaking down barriers in museum, unlocking the display cabinets and allowing people to make their own discoveries. And so, we showed all the hard work we’ve put in to 3D scanning and printing – perfect for allowing these discoveries!

What a display! 10/10 if I do say so myself.

After a few too many weeks of preparing 3D scans and printing models (sorry to those suffering PTSD after my printer harassment!), we finally produced quite the little display of heads shoved onto pikes. C’mon, admit it, you’re just as impressed as we are!

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all photos were taken with express permission, but please get in contact if you want them removed.

The whole aim of this workshop was to really gauge “what’s the point, the impact?”. Visitors progressed through three zones. First, they swiped through the iPads, formulating some ideas as to what really happened to the range of heads. After, they handled the printed models, allowing them to contextualise much of this digitised information. This was key – it’s really, really, difficult explaining the dips in the human head caused by forcing onto the pike without feeling them, otherwise you beg the question “which dip? Ketchup, guac, garlic mayo?”.

Finally, visitors finished with a miniature archery range, really shooting home with how amazing Roman archers were (or rather, how abysmally terrible we are now). Sometimes visitors had pretty great aim with the little dinky bows:

And other times… it looked like the museum was under attack!

Before visitors continued their exploration through the museum, they voted on what they enjoyed the most. Digital models? Printed models? Or, the original museum display? Clearly we evoked some excitement here because some visitors bragged to other people that they absolutely must come to our exhibit!

Yes, I know what (some) of you are thinking. What are the results?! Now now, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here, there’s a while before we can release those. But for now, here are some juicy quotes, which also make up for the lack of visitor photos because we were SO BUSY:

“I’m just stopping on a whistle stop tour, what’s all this?” – 30 minutes later – “my mind is BLOWN”

Jessie James, aged 32

“Can we eat it? [the plastic cow target]… aw, well can I shoot my brother instead?”

Hannibella, aged 6

“Aw jeez Rhys, aw jeez, I dunno, doesn’t this seem a little barbaric of the Romans? I dunno, aw jeez”

Morty, aged 14

So, was this a success? Yes! Did anything break? Not at all! Will we continue to push 3D imaging and printing forward? Absolutely! Wink wink nudge nudge to anyone fancying our 3D work for yourselves..!

Looks like we’ve had the best way to close off a summer of research!


All aboard! Next stop: digital land!

Over here at TUBA, it’s been full focus on 3D work, Vindolanda, steam trains and puns (prepare yourself for a dad joke overload!)

Come on baby, scan the Locomotion

You may not know, but Darlington has rich history of railway travel. In fact, the very first public train journey was made here, from Darlington to Stockton, back in 1825. This journey was made by the rather inventively named locomotive, Locomotion No. 1. Though to be honest, it probably should have been called the slowcomotion thanks to the top speed of 12 miles an hour (and, bizarrely, a lack of brakes..?!).

Locomotion No. 1
Just imagine, people were scared for their lives on this cutesy 12 mph fella!

And so, we were invited alongside some of the fantastic forensic science researchers at Teesside University to take some 3D scans of the Locomotion. And what a beauty, if not a bit of a daunting task! We might have gotten a little too excited when agreeing to this one, but hey, that’s all part of research, right..? Crawling underneath the Locomotion through decades worth of cobwebs was not quite so expected (I’m pretty sure I saw Frodo trapped down there somewhere).

Rhys: “For the love of all things trains, DONT. START. MOVING.”

Whilst myself, Amber Collings and Tim Thompson were powering through taking Faro laser scans all around the Locomotion, Awatif Shamata and Rebecca Strong were going full steam ahead scanning smaller objects with the HP structured light scanner, including a penny lick. Yeah, you don’t want a penny lick. Originally used for serving a bit of ice cream at the cost of a penny, they ended up being banned because the lack of proper cleanliness resulted in widespread disease. But hey, these ended up being replaced for ice cream cones, so I guess the cholera and tuberculosis were worth it…

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Well, looks like all the training with the Faro paid off! Once this model is tidied up and processed more, we should have a great platform for everyone to view and handle this marvelous train from their own home.

3D point clouds are pretty gorgeous! Shame they’re worse at sticking to time than trains are.


‘Google Maps-ing’ the Nation Horizons Centre

And now, for something totally unrelated to archaeology, we did some scanning at our new research building the NHC with a Matterport scanner. Think of this like a Google maps camera car, but for inside buildings. We went all over the building taking rapid scans to produce a neat floorplan and panoramic walk-through of the building, a la Google Maps style. Once the model goes public soon, you can all have a nosey of the building on your phones and iPads and plan out where you’re going to (comfortably) slave away in the labs!

The obligatory Faro/Matterport/NHC posing photo


Vindolanda Target Practice Weaponry

Last but certainly not least, some of the target practice weapons we scanned at Vindolanda (admittedly a while ago…) have now been perfected and put on display on Sketchfab along the crania! Follow these links to view a lancehead, an arrowhead and a ballista bolt. What better way to end a post about 3D than reminding ourselves of death and war? Ahem, ahem.

Speaking of, if you want to learn more about target practice, 3D imaging, and what we can do for museums, please do come along to our workshop at Vindolanda over August bank holiday weekend! Absolutely family friendly and, dare we say, thought-provokingly life changing (too much?), we hope this event will be the figurative cherry on the top of the literal ice cream you have sat out at Vindolanda.

Looking forward to seeing you at our workshop!


Lights, Scanners, Action!

Act One, Scene One!

Here at TUBA, we’ve been busy sweating out with our new FARO Focus terrestrial scanner, taking 3D scans of the entire excavations at Vindolanda. Those that have visited the site and seen white spheres or “little spaceships” dotted across the site and a tripod bobbing around – that was us!

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Clearly, there was a bit of movie magic going on because as soon as we left Teesside, the weather became absolutely, positively, gorgeous! Our poor noses barely had a chance to anticipate such glorious weather after leaving behind the torrential rain in Teesside, and may have come back home a tad red. Thanks to the rapid speed of the FARO scanner, some great scanning strategies, and some help from our wonderful new forensic science lecturer Dr Amber Collings, we managed to scan most of the site in just a handful of (long) days. If only the processing, merging and cleaning of the scans could be so quick!

Act Two

Whilst at Vindolanda, we’ve also been doing some more 3D scans of their artefacts. We started with testing how well our scanner works on some of the wooden tools. The answer – lovely! Here’s an example of what kind of models we get from scanning (small file size, but best be safe and load over WiFi):

We also scanned some human heads violently forced onto pikes. These were unexpectedly difficult thanks to the damage: the insides exposed but there wasn’t enough damage to actually scan them without an extra 14 scans taken at awkward angles. But more on these  crania soon enough!

POV of the scanner toward the cranium

Act Three

Now, you may be wondering what’s with the lame filming puns? Well, whilst at Vindolanda, we’ve been doing some TV filming!  A film crew came over from America to Vindolanda and Hadrian’s Wall to film for a new Discovery Channel series, and we were thrilled when they asked us to show some of the science and imaging work we’ve been doing.

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Whilst we’re having to be hush-hush on the details for now, we should be able to give more information before the expected air date of November. In the meantime, satisfy your need for more TUBA work, and check out our exhibit already at Vindolanda!

Our inception-esque exhibit at Vindolanda – get lost in the layers of preservation!

And that’s a wrap!


Research Trip: United Kingdom Archaeological Sciences 2019

Archaeology? Check. Science? Check. Doughnuts for lunch? CHECK.

Last week, the TUBA team attended the United Kingdom Archaeological Science Conference (UKAS) in Manchester, posters in tow and raring to go. This was a key conference for us, being the largest archaeological science conference in the UK. Manchester itself has a rich scientific history thanks to housing the atom-splitting scientist Ernest Rutherford, Alan Turing’s early artificial intelligence experiments, and 25 Nobel Prize winners. Whilst we’re not anticipating to win a Nobel Prize quite yet, we are working toward showing some fantastic innovations for archaeological science!

The first day of the conference was a fantastic start, with some excellent papers on isotopic analyses during the Paleoclimate and Environmental Change sessions. A stand-out talk was given by Seren Griffiths on how archaeologists must be aware that events are social constructs that we use to categorise data; often times, data don’t fit these categories nicely! This was worth considering during the afternoon sessions on post-domestication adaptions, with some great DNA and statistical analyses showing the origin of sheep, spread of barley to Scotland, and animals in the high arctic. And, to tie off the first day, a wine reception in the Fossil Gallery at Manchester Museum. You couldn’t ask for a more appropriate venue! Although, the amount of replica dinosaurs with goofy smiles was just a tad disconcerting…

An excellent venue for an archaeology reception, especially when the microphone echo appears to come direct from the T-Rex

The second day kicked off with some great talks on diet variations at Vindolanda and dairying in Roman Chichester during the Diet and Subsistence sessions. We do love hearing talks from other researchers about their Vindolanda discoveries. Following these was the first set of poster displays, with Rhys and Aboli presenting! Rhys was showing his research on 3D imaging of Roman activity at Vindolanda, and Aboli showed her research on Micromorphology of textile fibres from experimental dyeing vats. We may have been a bit too keen in discussing our work though as we had to wolf down our succulent brownies nutritious lunch in the final few minutes.. oops!

Rhys with his iPad of Roman Wonders, beside Aboli and the findings from her fabulous fibres

Next was the plenary lecture given by Professor Richard Evershed, pioneer of archaeological chemistry, discussing “Milking the Residues” and examining lactase persistence in prehistoric Europe. He sure was a tough act to follow, but the presentations on biomolecular archaeology didn’t waiver! These included further isotope analyses, and authenticating ancient proteoms with bespoke software DeamiDATE (check it out, it looks awesome).

The third day, we got moving and made our way down to the Mobility and Migrations session, where we learnt all about (as one may have inferred) the movement of past populations and the evidence they left behind. Christophe Snoeck’s talk on cremated remains at Stonehenge and how they were not evidence of prehistoric Brexit and a strange anti-Welsh interaction (despite some unnamed newspapers claiming these!).

The next session on Imaging and Chemical Analysis covered such a wide range of topics, including Vitamin D deficiency, mummy restoration, and some of the best sections of historic bone cancer taken through Micro-CT and synchrotron imaging by Patrick Randolph-Quinney (Rhys is coveting a little here!). We were like kids in a candy shop, or nerds in a dusty backstreet bookstore! The break in this session also marked the second poster session, with Helga showing her work on soil interactions and collagen preservation in leather from Vindolanda!

Helga and her leather-themed poster (no, the extra pair of legs didn’t belong to the poster)

The final session on the conference, Biological Anthropology, covered the widest range in topics, including some pioneering work into bacterial bone diagenesis by Richard Madgwick, and a genetic examination of skulls in the River Thames (a la bobbing for apples style) by Eleanor Green. To wrap up, we discussed the [absence of] interactions between commercial and research archaeology, including a proposal for researchers to ‘request’ samples from excavations. An interesting and very worthwhile proposal indeed, so look out for announcements on this.

And last but not least, prizes! Many congratulations to Abigal Ramsoe for winning the Best Student Oral Presentation prize, Bryony Rogers for winning the Best Student Poster Presentation prize, Barbara Veselka for winning the Early Career Researcher prize, and Sarah Delaney for the Greatest Impact on Cultural Resource Management prize. There was no better way to celebrate such a high quality, impactful and engaging conference than having a dinner together in the old Christie Science Library, with historic figureheads and original texts gracing the walls around us (and a couple bottles of wine for the table!).

Christie’s Library Bistro, followed by a game of “what celebrity does this vice-chancellor painting look like?”

Until next time!


2019: The Year of TUBA

It’s only March and we already have so much underway, we’ve barely had a chance to write a post! After  such a busy 2018, we set ourselves a challenge to have an even bigger and better year of research. Looks like this resolution has managed to beat January and February! So, what have we been up to? Strap in tight!


After a rejuvenating Christmas break without too much belt size adjustments, Rhys hit the ground running with a trip to Vindolanda to scan more of their target practice crania. He expected just a couple more, but was surprised to meet a whole collection! It was a bit like a kid in a candy shop, just… definitely not so edible (please don’t eat archaeological bones!). You can read a detailed story about this trip featured in the Vindolanda blog posts. Rhys has just about finished building these scans into complete 3D models ready for the next stage – look out for some exciting developments here! Rhys has also been visiting the University of York to learn all about thin-sectioning bones in their microtome bunker.

A whole range of crania on offer here, with another six to come – Romans sure did do a lot of target practice!


Helga has been busy minding her microcosm study, and doing all she can to prepare for the proteomic part of her project with the opening of the National Horizon Centre in the next weeks (see below). This has included travelling to the York BioArch facility to monitor extraction procedures (thank you for having me!), training in liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, and finalising the non-destructive components of her leather analyses. All in all, these are busy times and the threat of a caffeine overdose has rarely been more imminent.


Can you believe it’s nearly a year since Aboli joined our team? She sure can’t, time has flown! Aboli has been working on the scanning electron microscope to image different types of wool fibres, creating a wool library as a reference for future studies. She is also designing ICP-MS protocols for analysing the water used for dyeing wools, ready for an intense second year of her PhD!

National Horizons Centre

The NHC is almost ready to open this spring; the architecture and research opportunities are truly spectacular! The PhD students that have visited are already planning for groundbreaking work to undertake there (including Helga getting passionate for proteomics, and Rhys figuratively drooling over the FARO 3D scanner). We have big news about the NHC coming soon – we shalln’t spoil the surprises and grand unveiling just yet!

The towering FARO 3D scanner inside the immaculate NHC


Even though it’s Winter (despite the recent summery moods), we’ve still been acing the conference game! Earlier this month, Rhys presented a poster and presentation on analysing and mapping archaeological soil at the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (aka NEPIC, a big science-in-industry conference). Next, Rhys, Helga and Aboli are preparing their posters ready for presentation at the United Kingdom Archaeological Sciences Conference in April. We’re far too excited for the sessions on biomolecular archaeology, imaging and chemical analysis, and biological anthropology!

Progressions and Reviews

Last, but absolutely not least, all three of our PhD students have been writing their annual reviews, ready to show off how awesome their work is. Aboli is shrinking her extensive literature review down for her first-year review, a 30-page mini-thesis. Helga is polishing off her dazzling report for her second-year review , and Rhys has cleared the exam for his second review (huzzah!).

And that about wraps it up for now! Until next time,


Happy Holidays!

Season’s greetings from TUBA!

To mark the end of the year, we had a little Christmas party with our friends over in the Humbugs research group! As we get together, it’s time for us to reflect on how busy and successful this year has been.

It’s a TUBA Humbug Christmas around the fireplace! (Thanks Netflix)

We’ve each presented at several international conferences: RAC/TRAC in Edinburgh, European Meeting on Forensic Archaeology in Belfast, the Ancient Protein Conference in Copenhagen, TRACamp at Vindolanda, and at the 10th Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum. If you haven’t read our posts about these visits, or fancy a trip down blogging memory lane, feel free to follow the links!

We welcomed Aboli to the TUBA team during the height of the gorgeous summer, and she’s settled in excellently. We have also written several papers that have been accepted or are being peer-reviewed as we speak (we’ll share the juicy deets soon!), and starred in the Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology magazine.

TUBA Rewind:

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Behind the scenes, we’ve been running lots of experiments and finishing method development for various techniques. Rhys is tying off his pXRF and 3D scanning experiments. Helga has completed her first excavation of a whole range of microcosm leather experiments. Aboli is designing HPLC protocols for examining dyed textiles, and examined enough fibres with a scanning microscope to make a tacky tasteful Christmas jumper. Finally, Gillian has done tremendous work with the construction and development of the state-of-the-art National Horizons Centre, which we’re all extremely excited to work in – please get in contact if you want to collaborate with us there!

At first we felt like this year had flown by, however, looking at this list of all the major things that TUBA have done, outdoing these achievements next year has become quite the daunting task! So, what’s next on the cards for TUBA? All three of the PhD students have their progressions in the coming months, some more conferences in February and April, intense experiment sessions at the NHC, and maybe finishing off with a little bit of world domination (first, we’ll take Manhattan and Berlin!).


P.S. here’s a terrible archaeology Christmas cracker joke.

What do you call a very, very, very, very, very old joke?

… Pre-hysterical

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!

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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!?

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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.

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