Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

Wales' First Farmers

Jody Deacon, Curator: Prehistory (Collections and Access) , 26 February 2021

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.  

Lambcam 2021 - FAQs:  

Bernice Parker, 19 February 2021

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?' 

Give us ONE WORD - just one - for Wales

Angharad Wynne, 17 February 2021

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.

It's National Storytelling Week!! To mark it, we're inviting you to create and tell us a story....about this wedding dress! We'll tell you more about it's real story at the end of the competition, as we don't want it to limit your creativity or influence your ideas, but you might be interested to know that it is made from fine flannel cloth, purchased in 1974, when our museum was still a working woolen mill known as Cambrian Mills.

The winner will receive a beautiful double Welsh wool blanket, made on our museum site by Melin Teifi. A number of colour choices are available.

 

The best story weaver will win a beautiful, traditional double Welsh blanket, made by Melin Teifi on our museum site. These blankets were traditionally given as a wedding gift, and continue to be valued and collected the world over.

HOW TO ENTER:

The art of storytelling is an ancient one here in Wales. It was practiced by Cyfarwyddion, storytellers at the courts of kings and lords as well as at forge fires and in parlours by the fire. To honour this tradition, for storytelling week, we're asking you to TELL us a story, rather than write one down. You are welcome to submit your entry in Welsh or Englisng. So,

1. Dream up, imagine and think through a short, original story inspired by this wedding dress from our collection. You may find it easy to jot down a few notes to help you get a bit of a structure.

2. Practice TELLING the story out loud, and time yourself to make sure it's UNDER 2 MINUTES IN LENGTH. We will not accept stories that go over time.

3. When you feel confident, film yourself telling the story in under 2 minutes. It doesn't need to be fancy, just a film using a phone camera will do. Alternatively, you could record yourself speaking the story (no more than 2 minutes in length) and send us the recording. However, please do not just READ us a story. There's a big difference between spontaeously speaking a story and reading it.

4. When you've got a film / audio recording you're happy with, email it to us at: stori@museumwales.ac.uk

These blankets were traditionally given as wedding gifts, and continue to be heirlooms and collectors items worldwide.

COMPTETITION CLOSING DATE: WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY at 15:00. For competition terms and conditions, see below

We'll be sharing the top 5 stories through our social media channels on Valentine's Day, and announcing the winner that afternoon.

 

 

 

TOP TIPS FOR RECORDING YOUR STORY USING MOBILE PHONE / TABLET / LAPTOP / DESKTOP COMPUTER

Lighting

- Use natural light: outside or beside window with the light on your face.

- Avoid backlighting, e.g. window, lamps, TV behind you.

 

Framing and Positioning 

- Film in landscape, not portrait, position.

- Keep your phone as still as you can by using a tripod or resting it on a steady surface. Avoid hand-held filming.

 

Recording on Laptop or Desktop

- Start up Zoom, Teams, Skype, FaceTime etc and ensure you can see yourself, then start QuickTime Player.

 

Using screen capture with QuickTime Player

- Within the application: File, “New Screen Recording”, press red record button to start capture.

- Press stop button to end the recording.

- Saving the file: File, “Export As”, 1080p, title the video, select file location, “Save”.

 
Terms & Conditions
· The Promoter is: Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru / the National Museum of Wales (Charity Registration number: 525774) whose registered office is at Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP.
· Employees of the National Museum of Wales or their families, or anyone else connected in any way with the competition, shall not be permitted to enter the competition.
· There is no entry fee to the competition and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.
· The promoter will only consider one entry per participating email, Facebook or Twitter account.
· Entries which put entrants, staff or any other persons at risk will not be eligible for this competition
· The Promoter is not responsible for any physical injury or harm to entrants or any other persons in the course of participating in this competition
· It is the Entrant’s responsibility to ensure that they take necessary precautions to guard their own safety, and the safety of any other persons present, while participating in this competition
· Closing date for entry will be Wednesday 10 February at 15.00. After this date no further entries to the competition will be permitted.
· No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for any reason. 
· The Promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of any event outside of the Promoter's control. Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the Promoter.
· The Promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition.
· No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. The prizes are not transferable. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
· Winners will be chosen on merit by a representative of the Promoter.
· The winners will be notified via email Facebook or Twitter by 15 February. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 72 hours of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.
· The Promoter will notify the winner when and where the prize can be collected, or to where it should be posted
· The Promoter's decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
· The competition and these terms and conditions will be governed by UK Law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the UK.
· By entering this competition, an entrant releases Facebook and twitter from any or all liability in connection with this contest
· All entrants agree that National Museum of Wales can display and share their entries on their website and social media channels, with name credit where the information is available. Submitted entries will remain the intellectual property of the entrants.
· Winners agree to post an acknowledgement Facebook or twitter, mentioning @amgueddfacymru in their message.
· The winner agrees to the use of their name, likeness and entry in any publicity material.
· Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant's prior consent.
· Entry into the competition will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.
· This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook or any other social network. You are providing your personal information to the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales and not to any other party. The information provided will be used in conjunction with the Data Protection Act.

 

It’s Saint Dwynwen’s Day on 25th January, the day when we celebrate love here in Wales. In case you’re separated from your loved one during this lockdown, we’re posting this recipe early so you get a chance to pop them in the post. Whatever you’re doing, we send you Covid safe cwtches from the museum.

This delicious recipe is from our catering team at National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre.

 

Pice Bach – Welsh Cakes

 

INGREDIENTS:

1lb self-raising flour

8oz butter

6oz caster sugar

2 eggs

2 handfuls currants – or cranberries if you want to add a dash of red for St Dwynwen’s day!

extra butter for greasing

 

METHOD:

  1. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the diced butter.
  2. Rub with your fingertips, or pulse in a food processor, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the sugar, currants / cranberries and beaten eggs  and mix well to form a ball of dough, using a splash of milk if needed.
  4. Roll the dough out on a floured board to a thickness of about 5mm/½in.
  5. Cut into heart shape with a 7.5–10cm/3-4in heart cutter.
  6. Rub a bakestone or heavy iron griddle with butter, wipe away the excess and place on the hob until it is heated through.
  7. Cook the Welsh cakes a few at a time for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown.
  8. Remove from the griddle and dust with caster sugar while still warm.

Here they are, delicious, romantic Welsh Cakes!

Enjoy!!