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There are some objects here at the National Museum Cardiff which hold a special place in the hearts of our visitors. Perhaps most popular of all are the mother and baby mammoth models in our Evolution of Wales gallery. But what is the history of this loveable pair?

The models were made for an exhibition called Mammoths and the Ice Age, which opened in December 1991. The exhibition borrowed spectacular specimens from all over Europe, and focused particularly on animals that are known to have lived in Wales. This included a range of incredible creatures, including woolly rhinoceros, giant deer, hyena, hippopotamus and a cave bear.

Photograph of museum diorama showing bison and other ice age animals

Bertie the Bison was also part of the exhibition!

Photograph of museum diorama showing a woolly rhinoceros and a wolf in the ice age

A wolf and woolly rhinoceros in the Mammoths and the Ice Age exhibition.

But of course, the main attraction was the mammoths themselves. There were real skeletons and full-sized reproductions, but the stars of the show were the lifelike robotic models. The wolves (which can still be seen the Evolution of Wales gallery) were originally robotic too, and the mother was seen to be protecting her calf from the pack of predators.

Photograph of museum diorama showing a mammoth protecting her calf from a pack of wolves

The mammoth and wolf models in Mammoths and the Ice Age

The exhibition also had interactive elements. “Youngsters can play at being a mammoth”, a press preview describes, “by playing a computer game that puts them in the place of a mammoth for a day”.

Mammoths and the Ice Age was wildly popular from the start. A report in the South Wales Echo describes how extra museum attendants were hired "to cope with the crowds" (18/03/1992). In fact, the exhibition proved so well-received it was extended for an extra four months until January 1993.

The exhibition even spawned a spin-off display. Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children was set up in the Main Hall and showcased a selection of artworks created by schoolchildren who’d visited Mammoths and the Ice Age.

Collage of mother and baby mammoths, made by a child

Collage of mother and baby mammoths from Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children

Child's drawing of a mammoth

Drawing of a mammoth from Mammoths Through the Eyes of Children

While the wolves now remain motionless, there’s no stopping the mammoths. It’s a struggle to keep them moving these days, but our team do their best. Since becoming part of Evolution of Wales when it opened in October 1993, they've continued to win admirers young and old. Perhaps it’s their sheer size, jerky robotic movements, or just the pleasant surprise at finding such an adorable scene in the middle of a dark and scary cave. Let's hope they'll be around for many years to come.

 

Liam Doyle

Dippy: Volunteer and Activities Officer

Comments(1)

Alexander Roberts
14 October 2018, 08:25
Dear Liam,

It was lovely to come across this write up of the Mammoths exhibition from the 1990s. As a young sixth form music student at Swansea College, as it was called back then, I was lucky enough to have composed the music that accompanied the icy scenes on show. The organisers of the exhibition were unable to pay me or my department for providing the musical backdrop but they did donate a wonderful ADAT pro tape deck to our fledgling music production studio which continued to serve us well for many years to come. I also ended up in the South Wales Evening Post. It was a very exciting project to be part of and it’s great to see that there are still elements of the exhibition still going strong. Do you happen to have the music from the exhibits still in your museum archive, by any chance?

Best Wishes
Alexander

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