Amgueddfa Blog

The launch of Lambcam 2021 seems like the perfect opportunity to think about the world of the very first farmers in Wales. This takes us back around 6000 years, to the beginning of the Neolithic period, a time when the hunting and gathering ways that had governed life for millennia were being challenged for the first time. Here we’ll take a quick look at three Early Neolithic innovations – farming, stone axes and pottery. 

Farming fundamentally altered how people interacted with their environment. The wild woodlands that covered most of Britain started to be cleared using axes and fire creating areas suitable for animals and new cereal crops. Seasonal rhythms that had previously encouraged movement around the landscape became tied to the demands of cultivating crops and raising animals for milk, meat, skins and hair. 

Today sheep are a familiar sight grazing on the Welsh hills but before 4000BCE people living in Britain would have been more used to aurochs (wild cattle measuring 1.8m at the shoulder), red deer, wild boar and wolves than exotic creatures like the domestic sheep! That said, a Neolithic sheep might challenge our modern expectations of what it is to be a sheep! They were much smaller with shorter, brown wiry hair rather than having the fluffy white wool we’re more familiar with – something like the modern Soay sheep found in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. 

Polished stone axes were another Neolithic innovation! The Public History and Archaeology department holds over 1,200 ‘roughouts’ and finished axes that have been found across Wales.  

Many stone axes come from specific rock outcrops that were returned to over many years. In these remote places, stone was quarried and roughly shaped before being taken elsewhere to be finished and polished into fine axes. Sometimes axes are found considerable distances from their original outcrops – this helps archaeologists to understand the ways different groups of Neolithic people might have been connected.  

Making and finishing a stone axe was a time-consuming business - it took hours of polishing with sand and water to create the smooth, polished surface.  

Some axes would have been practical tools, used for felling trees, shaping wood or even as weapons. Others are incredibly beautiful and finely made. These may have been used to show prestige, status and connection to special places or groups of people. 

Most of us have a favorite tea mug, breakfast bowl or plant pot so it’s hard to imagine a time when pottery did not exist. For the first farmers, pottery was the latest technology! Wet clay was shaped and changed into hard ceramic in a bonfire – this might have seemed magical at first, but it quickly caught on and pottery use spread across Wales. The first pots were simple bowls with rounded bases that were good for resting on the ground. They could be used for cooking, serving and storing food or to hold liquids such as soups and stews.  

We're getting ready for another lambing season here at St Fagans and we know that lots of you will be looking forward to #lambcam. So, we've put together the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that have come up over the years.  Here's the stuff you need to know when things start to hot up in the lambing shed: 

Why do the sheep head butt each other? 

The ewes are very grumpy, hormonal and territorial as they prepare to give birth. Sheep only have teeth on their bottom jaw with a hard pad on their upper jaw - good for nibbling grass, but useless for fighting biting. They're also not very good at kicking with their spindly little legs. So a good hefty headbutt is their preferred method of asserting themselves! 

Why have some of the sheep got blue straps on them? 

Like all pregnant animals, sheep can sometimes suffer from uterine prolapse (look away now if you're squeamish). It's usually caused by big lambs. The harness helps to hold everything in place until the ewe is ready to lamb. Most sheep can then lamb normally without expelling the uterus as well. 

Some of the sheep are limping or walking on their front knees – why don’t you do anything about it? 

Our sheep have their feet trimmed as part of their regular care, but it's not ideal to do this in late pregnancy. Sitting them up onto their bottoms (same hold as shearing) can crush their lung capacity and stop them breathing. So by the time they lamb, they are very heavy and may have sore feet. Once they've had a few days to get over the birth they will be foot trimmed as part of their post-natal care. 

Some of the sheep may also suffer nerve pain in their legs from the pressure of the lambs inside them. This can make them lame, but usually resolves itself immediately after lambing. All sheep that are eating and drinking well are best remaining with the flock – we only separate them for medical necessities. 

Is anybody there looking after the sheep? 

Lambcam is brought to you by a small but dedicated team. Once things get going there are experienced staff on hand during the day and through the night. 

Are the sheep in pain?  

Yes - they're giving birth, and labour can be a long and painful process!  

I've been watching a sheep struggling to give birth - why doesn't someone go in and help her? 

Sheep are nervous animals - they don't find the presence of humans relaxing.  Their natural instinct is to run away (as you'll see every time the team go in). Sprinting round the shed stresses them out and slows down the lambing. The shepherds observe quietly from a distance and intervene as little as possible. A calm, quiet shed means shorter labours for everyone. 

But she's been struggling for ages and no-one's been to see her! 

As well as the area you can see on camera, we have separate nursery sheds for the ewes and their lambs. The team will always assess the needs of the whole flock and prioritise the most vulnerable. A very sick newborn lamb that needs tube feeding may be taking precedence over a ewe in labour. Remember that there may be a staff member just out of shot watching on. 

Why are you letting it go on so long? 

The ewe needs to labour until her cervix is dilated enough for the lambs to pass through. This can take anything from 30 minutes to several hours. The ones that are making the most fuss are often our yearlings giving birth for the first time. Ironically these are the girls that need to do the most work to open their cervixes. Caesarean births for sheep would only ever be an absolute last resort and have very poor outcomes for the ewe. A long labour is always a much better option - sorry ladies! 

There's a sheep in the shed screaming in pain… 

Sheep are mostly completely silent when giving birth (but you should hear the racket at feeding time!) In the wild, being quiet while in labour reduces the chances of being attacked by a predator at such a vulnerable moment. When you see a ewe with her eyes wide, head thrown back and top lip curled, it's evidence of the strength of her contractions. That's a good thing - it means she's getting down to business and there'll be a birth happening soon. 

I've just seen the shepherd give the sheep an injection - what was that? 

A shot of calcium can help get things moving if a ewe has been in active labour for a long time but is not making much progress with dilating her cervix. 

Why do they swing the lambs by their legs sometimes? 

It's vital that lambs start to breathe on their own as soon as they are born. They sometimes have noses and throats full of fluid. You may see the shepherds sticking a bit of straw up the lamb's nostril to get it to cough or sneeze. If this doesn't work they will sometimes swing the lamb by its back legs. It looks dramatic - but is the most effective way to clear the airway. Centrifugal force helps the lamb to cough out any obstructions. 

What are they doing when they put their hands inside the sheep? 

Check out this blog post from 2016 for a full guide to lamb presentation aka 'What's going on there?' 

Today, Wales is a modern, ethnically diverse, multicultural nation, and many of our family, friends and fellow Welsh men and women are scattered across the globe. We’ve been living through unprecedented times and our world is changing. So as St David’s Day approaches, we want to explore how Welsh identity might be changing too.

We miss welcoming you to our Wales Is gallery at St Fagans National Museum of History where we explore Welsh identity and ask you to share your thoughts on what it is to be Welsh. So, we’d really like to hear from you. Please give us ONE WORD – just ONE WORD to describe Wales or Welshness right now. It could be a thing, an emotion, a colour, whatever it is for you at this time. We want to understand whether things like daffodils or cawl or concepts such as ‘hiraeth’ or ‘cwtch’ still represent us, or are there other things and feelings that are emerging as icons or as associations with contemporary Wales.

One Word For Wales

We’re interested in hearing from all and anyone who lives in Wales, or identifies as Welsh – of whatever ethnic or cultural background, regardless of where you live in the world right now.

We’ll collect all your words together and make something beautiful with them to share with you just before St David’s Day.

Please feel free to Tweet your word or create an Instagram to share it, but please, please remember to add the #wordforwales hashtag to your post so that we can find it and include it in our trawl of responses. Alternatively, please email us your word to: onewordforwales@museumwales.ac.uk.

And please remember to share this with friends and family across Wales and across the world.

To celebrate LGBT History Month this year I asked Vish to write a blog post about Glitter Cymru and why they founded it. Throughout 2019 I worked with members of Glitter Cymru to collect their banner, along with other objects and oral histories from its members. These all now form part of the LGBTQ+ collection at St Fagans National Museum of History.

In this blog post we have also included images from the collection, along with a video made by Vish to introduce Glitter Cymru’s Virtual Pride held in August 2020. This video has been donated to St Fagans and is preserved in the audio-visual archive.

Mark Etheridge
Curator: LGBTQ+ history
St Fagans National Museum of History

My name is Vish. I identify as Indian, Welsh and queer and I’m the founder and chair of Glitter Cymru. Glitter Cymru was set up in July 2016 as a meet-up and support group for ethnic minority people who are LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) based in South Wales. Prior to March 2020, we used to meet on a monthly basis face to face, but due to COVID, we moved our meet-ups to a weekly basis on Zoom. We adapted to this challenging / isolating time and found great comfort in each other’s company.

Glitter Cymru came about after hearing the frustrations of my ethnic minority LGBT+ peers, as well as my own frustrations, of not feeling welcomed, understood or represented by the wider LGBT+ community and in society in general. So Glitter was born to be the possible antidote to the issue of invisibility that we continue to feel, particularly in smaller cities like Cardiff and Newport. We come together at our meet-ups to shine, sparkle and feel visible – hence our group’s name is wonderfully apt.

The truth is many of our group attendees and myself included, have experienced a great deal of exclusion and othering. For example, be it racism from the predominately white wider LGBT+ community to homophopia, biphopia and transphopia from people of our own ethnicities.

Don’t just take my word for it, recent research from Stonewall, a leading LGBT+ equality charity, found 51% of ethnic minority LGBT+ people had faced discrimination or poor treatment from the wider LGBT+ community. This issue was found to be greater for Black LGBT+ people where the figure rises to 61%.

Upsettingly, this stat highlights that many ethnic minority LGBT+ people feel they can’t be their authentic selves in British society. In a society where our identities are ignored and debated, we need spaces like Glitter Cymru to feel validated and in turn gain empowerment to face the wider world that can be bigoted.

Apart from our meet-ups, Glitter Cymru aims to raise awareness of ethnic minority LGBT+ identities and issues through campaigns and events. We’d put together a milestone event on 10 August 2019, Wales’ first BAME (Black Asian & Minority Ethnic) Pride in Cardiff where we celebrated our community.

We’ve donated our banner from this event and which we also marched with at Pride Cymru’s parade (on 24 August 2019) to St Fagans National Museum of History.  We’re deeply honoured that our handmade banner will be preserved at the museum and that it will continue to represent a moment in time where ethnic minority LGBT+ people in Wales came forward to be celebrated and acknowledged or in other words shine and sparkle as Glitter is supposed to.

© Glitter Cymru / Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Happy New Year Bulb Buddies!  It’s February already which means spring will be here before we know it.  Some of you may have noticed shoots from your bulbs by now – if so then you’re well on your way to some beautiful blossoms.  Don’t worry if you can’t see any shoots yet, some bulbs take a little longer before they’re ready to sprout, especially if it’s cold outside.

We all know this spring will be little different from other years.  I’m sure many of you Bulb Buddies will be missing your classroom and playground if you’re learning at home.  Perhaps some of you are also thinking of your Baby Bulbs back in school without anybody to look after them – don’t worry, your bulbs will be safe and sound, especially if they’re outside. 

Even though we’re not all in school at the moment Professor Plant still needs your help to collect the weather data and my goodness what a lot of data there is to collect!  It’s very important that we keep a note of rainfall and temperature as our bulbs grow because this will help us to understand our results better in the spring.  I’ve thought of a few ways you might be able to keep your Baby Bulbs happy and help Professor Plant to carry on collecting weather and flower data.  I’d be over the moon if you could help by doing one of these things if you’re able to:

 

Professor Plant’s ideas for continuing to collect data at home:

  • Could Bulb Buddies/parents safely collect their pots and take them home to monitor their growth?
  • Could a Bulb Buddy who lives close to school safely collect the weather equipment and take weather records at home?
  • Would a teacher still attending school be happy to collect weather and flower data with any Bulb Buddies still in attendance?  Data collected could be submitted to the website or collected for the original class to submit on their return to school.
  • Is there someone with access to the school who might be willing to monitor the plants?

 

What else can Bulb Buddies do from home?

  •  It’s very important to collect weather data for our bulbs –perhaps you could keep a weather diary for Professor Plant?
  • The MET office Weather Observation Website will have temperature and rainfall data for your area, perhaps you could make a note of these every day?
  • Bulb Buddies and parents learning at home should keep checking the Spring Bulbs website for learning resources and activities to try at home
  • Why not share your hard work on Twitter?  My handle is @Professor_Plant

 

Thank you all so much for your help Bulb Buddies, you are all doing fantastic work with this investigation and I definitely couldn’t do this without you!  I’d also like to give a special thank you to the teachers and parents too – we’re so grateful for your help overcoming everything this term throws at us.

Happy gardening everyone!

Professor Plant.

close up of daffodils