Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

The dinosaur skeleton we know and love as Dippy, has an interesting history. But we know these fossils were first called Diplodocus, right? Well, no probably not….

We’ve heard about how ‘Dippy’ came to London in 1905 – a plaster cast of the original fossil bones kept in the Carnegie Museum Pittsburgh. And thanks to palaeontologists, we can picture it as a living animal browsing in Jurassic forests 145-150 million years ago – seeing off predators with its whip-like tail.

But what about the middle of the story? Where did these fossils come from?

AC-NMW

In 1898 thanks to the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest people in the world. He was busy giving away money for libraries and museums. Hearing about the discovery of huge dinosaurs in the American West he said something like ‘Get us one of those!’, sending a Carnegie Museum team to find a “most colossal animal”.

So, in 1899 in the last days of the American Old West, a Diplodocus skeleton was discovered at Sheep Creek, Albany County on the plains of Wyoming, USA. It happened to be the 4th of July, Independence Day, which prompted the Carnegie team to give the fossil its first nickname - ‘The Star Spangled Dinosaur’. Predictably though, this new species was later published as Diplodocus carnegii.

The dig site would have looked very similar to this one at the nearby Bone Cabin Quarry one year earlier.

To set the scene, these late 1800's photographs are from other parts of Albany County, Wyoming (via Wikimedia Commons).

Dippy’s first name, “Unkche ghila”.

But what about the original people of the plains, the Native Americans? Wouldn’t they have found dinosaur fossils before the European settlers? In her book “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” Adrienne Mayor shows that indeed they did. They visualised the fossils’ original forms as Giant Lizards, Thunder Birds, and Water Monsters, and several of the famous dinosaur collectors had Native American guides. This book shows that Native American ideas about fossils were perceptive of the geological processes involved such as extinction, volcanoes, and sea level change.

( “Clear”, Lakota people, 1900. Heyn & Matzen

The original people of the plains where Diplodocus fossils are found are the Lakota Sioux. James LaPointe of the Lakota people was born in 1893, and recalls a legend he heard as a boy:

“The Sioux called these creatures “Unkche ghila”, roughly comparable to dinosaurs; these oddly shaped animals moved across the land in great numbers and then disappeared. The massive bones of these now extinct creatures can be found in the badlands south and east of the Black Hills. It is not clear when the unkche ghila went extinct, but Sioux geology maintains they were still around when the Black Hills rose from the earth.” From James R. Walker , 1983. ‘Lakota Myth’.

So, via Adrienne Mayor, I’ll give the last word here to the US National Park Service:

“The stories and legends told by American Indians offer a unique perspective into the traditional spiritual significance of fossils and offer an exceptional opportunity to illustrate the interconnectedness of humans and nature.” Jason Kenworthy and Vincent Santucci, “A Preliminary Inventory of National Park Service Paleontological Resources in Cultural Resource Contexts.”

Where do I start when talking about the experience that has been Dippy?! 

Well he’s certainly been a phenomenon for us here at Amgueddfa Cymru. Right from when we first started installing him back in October last year, people were standing on the balcony watching the very efficient team from the Natural History Museum putting him together piece by piece. Of course we saved the head going on until last! I was fortunate to be permitted into the enclosure and up close to some of the replicated bones, which was very exciting for me.

In the first half term in October we had 53,898 visitors to the museum, an increase of 258% on the previous year. On the Wednesday we had over 10,000 visitors, which is a first for us! What we had been prepared for by a previous venue, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, but that might not instantly occur to you, is that we needed more toilet rolls! Not a very glamorous aspect of Exhibitions & Displays, but a very important one for our visitors! In my last blog I talked a lot about Snake poo, so I’m moving on swiftly from toilet rolls now before I gain a reputation for obsessing about poo! Our front of house staff had their work cut out for them; ensuring visitors could access the whole museum, answering questions on Dippy and keeping them safe. I spent some time in the Main Hall and these amazing people worked so hard. But it wasn’t just in the Main Hall. The galleries were full, especially our Natural History galleries, which was great as we had additional visitors to the museum to see Dippy, but they stayed to explore more of what we have to offer.

We have a special Dippy shop which has been equally full and busy, with staff rushed off their feet – my favourite item is the glittery dinosaur.  There may have been debate about what dinosaurs looked like, but I’m pretty sure no one has found evidence for sequins as yet! Our colleagues in the restaurant and cafe made special menus to account for the increase in visitor footfall, as well as the opportunity to make dinosaur cakes!

In our Temporary Exhibitions Gallery, which was open to the public during holidays and weekends, our colleagues from the Youth Forum worked with artist Megan Broadmeadow to create a strong message about Fast Fashion from recycled clothes. I’m trying to work out where we can keep the pterosaur, which is brilliant. Our messages about the climate emergency within the exhibition and also when Extinction Rebellion Cardiff came and held a ‘die in’ are, for me, highlights of what a museum can achieve when we work with people from outside our organization and be led by their inspiration and creativity.

I’ve spoken with staff from across the museum and everyone seems to have enjoyed having Dippy here, it’s going to seem very empty when he goes at the end of this month – you have until 26 January to see him.

Skull of Dippy the dinosaur

Hi folks, Dippy here!

I’ve been having a wonderful time at National Museum Cardiff, everyone is so friendly and I have been the centre of attention at some very exciting events. With far too many stories to fit into one blog, here are my top five highlights from my time spent in Cardiff.

 

1) Dysgu Cymraeg | Learning Welsh

I arrived in Cardiff an absolute beginner, but thanks to the lovely Museum staff I quickly picked up the language. With plenty of opportunities to practice my Welsh with visitors, I have been writing bilingual tweets from my account @DippyOnTour.

2) Dippy-Themed Events

When I heard I would be sharing the grand hall with events such as silent discos and yoga I was worried I might get in the way. In fact I have become the star of the show and even attended my first Welsh wedding!

 

The happy couple

The happy couple

© Sadie Osborne Photography, sadie-osborne.squarespace.com

                                                                                                    

3) Exploring Nature

My mission on this UK tour is to encourage people to explore nature on their doorstep. That’s not a difficult task in Cardiff, which boasts more green space per person than any other major UK city. I have had a marvellous time discovering new parks every day! Check out my website for tips on exploring nature in your local area.

4) My New Friend

I didn’t know there were other dinosaurs in Wales, but I was soon introduced to Dracoraptor, a dinosaur discovered only a few miles away from Cardiff. At first I was jealous of Dracoraptor’s rather interesting name, which means ‘dragon thief’. However, once we got to know each other we quickly became friends.

Model of Dracoraptor

Model of Dracoraptor

© Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

5) YOU!

By far the best thing about being in Cardiff has been all the amazing people I have met. I’m here until 26 January so please keep visiting and sharing your selfies using #DippyArDaith and #DippyOnTour.

Crowds around Dippy the dinosaur

 

It’s that time of year when the stress of Christmas countdown, the high expectations of the season and extended time spent indoors with family can make the best of us a little … well, stir crazy – and in dire need of a place to chill out. Of course, a museum visit is a perfect antidote whatever your age; we offer space, interesting things to see indoors, creative activities and workshops, a break from the everyday, and of course our national museums here in Wales offer free entry which won’t stretch the purse strings further!

But for some of our community, having a place to chill out is not just a ‘nice to have’, rather it is an essential need which makes life and being out and about possible. The National Waterfront Museum has created a dedicated ‘chill-out room’ designed for autistic visitors but for use by anyone who needs it. Here, Ian Smith Senior Curator of Modern & Contemporary Industry at the Waterfront Museum explains how this special space came about.

“In October 2016 we had a staff training day in ‘Autism Awareness’. It opened our eyes to how they see the world and how we can support their needs. It showed us how even the simplest of environmental changes can affect a person with autism. Things like light and sound levels, the colour of walls and floors. In fact the general layout of a space which might be deliberately made stimulating and flashy might cause many autistic people to retreat within themselves.

It was around this time that we welcomed a new volunteer at the museum. Rhys, 17, has autism. His mother contacted us and asked if he could volunteer with us to help his confidence when meeting people and in a real work environment. Rhys helps to run an object handling session, usually with another volunteer or a member of staff, and he has taken to it really well. We have all noticed that he’s become more outgoing and will now hold conversations with total strangers.

With the growing awareness of autism the Museum decided to create an Autism Champion. Our staff member Suzanne, who has an autistic son, readily agreed to take up the challenge. She now attends meetings with our sister museums where issues and solutions around autism are discussed.

During our training session we discovered that some organisations have created ‘chill-out’ rooms. These are for anyone who is feeling stressed or disturbed to go to and relax and gather themselves together. These rooms are especially useful for autistic people. We put a small group together to look at creating a safe, quiet space somewhere in the Waterfront Museum. After considering options, we decided that a little used first aid room on the ground floor offered the best place.

Rhys came into his own. He offered us a number of suggestions on how we could change the space to make it autism friendly. These included making the light levels controllable and sound proofing the room so that gentle music or relaxing sounds could be played. Suzanne too came up with a number of ideas from her own experience of looking after her son. Additionally, a local special school, Pen-y-Bryn, with whom we had an established relationship also offered us their valuable expertise.

The room we’ve created is a very soothing space and we find it gets regular use by people with a range of needs, and is clearly much appreciated as shown by the comments in the visitor’s book:

“Fantastic resource! My daughter really needed this today – thank you!”

“Lovely place to get away from the hustle and bustle for a little one.”

“Lovely idea for people on the spectrum to come for quiet.”

“Really helped my son to have some time out.”

This has been a very big learning curve for most of us, but it has been made much easier by talking to people who have direct experience of autism. Their input as part of our team has been invaluable.”

“Lewis! Don’t touch anything and keep quiet!”

Those were the words of my history teacher, Mr Davies, as the bus from Cynffig Comprehensive School pulled up outside National Museum Cardiff in the autumn of 1966.

Fifty three years later, and since my appointment as President Amgueddfa Cymru earlier this year, I have heeded Mr Davies’s advice, as I have spent my time meeting and listening to the wonderful teams of people, staff and volunteers, around our eight sites, and hearing from our trustees, patrons, sponsors, government ministers and civil servants and to some of the millions of our visitors.

The overwhelming impact made upon me over these past six months is one of extraordinary passion and dedication to the work of Amgueddfa Cymru by everyone I have met. And everyone, quite rightly, is so proud of the remarkable achievements of Amgueddfa Cymru, especially with St Fagans matching the 2005 success of Big Pit by winning the Museum of the Year 2019 Award.

Nearly 1.9 million people visited our seven museums in the Amgueddfa Cymru family in this past year. Without doubt our national museums truly belong to the people of Wales, and thanks to the Welsh Government they are all free to visit.

Moreover, the support of our patrons, foundations and sponsors has allowed us to create a rich mix of events and exhibitions and to purchase a wide range of wonderous new things to display.

We are totally committed to the principles of cultural democracy and social inclusion which enables us as to engage with as many people as we possibly can from each and every corner of Wales. Working in partnership with as many diverse communities as possible, particularly those who are disadvantaged, to make a positive difference to the wellbeing of Wales and to secure our future for generations to come, underpinned by robust and considered research is our compass.

Our commitment to play our part in addressing the climate change emergency, based upon our special scientific insight, is critical to us all. And our horizons stretch beyond Wales. We are determined to make a dynamic contribution to Wales across the world, playing our part in creating a prosperous country for all.

As someone who is a beneficiary of Wales’s post-war vision of education being a right, not a privilege, and a son of parents who both left school at fourteen years of age, Amgueddfa Cymru’s commitment to learning is simply breath taking. Over two hundred thousand school children and students visited our museums in 2018/19. We are the largest learning provider outside of the classroom in Wales – this is outstanding.

Without doubt, Mr Davies would be mightily impressed with Amgueddfa Cymru today, and with our goal to remove as many barriers as possible, so that even more people immerse themselves in our inspirational galleries and spaces which ignite the imagination, it is creativity which will touch the hearts and minds of all.

We are now embarking on a 10-year plan to take our museums to even greater heights, welcome even more visitors, involve even more people, and be bold in our ambition to inspire people and change lives. Our desire to celebrate the very best of Welsh endeavour across a spectrum of disciplines inspires us all! I look forward to seeing what the new decade brings to Amgueddfa Cymru.

Merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year to you all!

Roger Lewis

President, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales