Amgueddfa Blog: Natural History

Every river has its source, starting small then gathering pace. Our project on freshwater snails is doing just that as we tumble into 2019. “Codi i’r Wyneb – Brought to the Surface is a 2-year project to create a new guide to the freshwater snails of Britain and Ireland, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Where better to begin than with Amgueddfa Cymru’s world class Mollusca collections?

This month we are joined by three new faces: our Project Officer, Harry Powell, and volunteers Jelena Nefjodova and Mike Tynen. Harry studied biology and ecology at Plymouth University, and is a former volunteer here himself. Mike spent many years with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Jelena is a current student at Cardiff University. All four of us have gotten stuck in to the snail collections here, of which we’ll say more in a moment.

To date over 1000 other people, and several organisations, have already engaged with Brought to the Surface. Our travelling display was especially popular at Swansea Science Festival in November 2018, where many members of the public took the chance to get up close (up to 50X magnification!) with British and foreign freshwater snails on our stand. We also showcased specimens at two conferences at the Museum, Unknown Wales (Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales) and at the Wales Biodiversity Partnership.

These displays will evolve as the project does, but also on the way is a more permanent exhibit at the Museum, now in the design stages. This gives us an excuse to feature a photo by our partner Hannah Shaw, of the magnificent Llangloffan Fen near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. We’ve been looking for a lush landscape, captured in summer, to make a good backdrop for the display. It’s also a reminder that, having passed the solstice, outdoor snail activities are not too far away.

Summer will also bring our series of “Snail Day” training and key testing events around Wales. Our partner Mike Dobson has been especially quick of the mark in helping draft a comprehensive key to try out with the public at these. We are fortunate in having such a range of snail specimens from the Museum to use in these activities, but it will also be fun for people to have a go at finding and identifying their own. After all, the ideal key is one that should allow a total beginner to identify the very first snail they find…

And so back to the collections, the foundation of this kind of biology and a unique asset of museums. Harry, Mike and Jelena have been helping review and curate what we already have, and others have kindly been sending specimens from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland for our project. Particular thanks to our partner Martin Willing from the Conchological Society, who is hot on the trail of Britain’s more obscure freshwater snail species. Our Twitter account @CardiffCurator will feature many of these over the next couple of years with the hashtag #FreshwaterSnailoftheFortnight. The photos, descriptions and DNA sequences from 150 years’ worth of snail study will all be the basis for our eventual Field Studies Council publication.

We’ll report again as more people, places and snails join us on our journey.

In recognition of this Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will be running a series of monthly blogs, each one covering a different chemical element and its significance to Wales. Look out for these throughout the year on our website.

To start off our series of blogs, for January we have silver.

Silver (chemical symbol – Ag), atomic number 47, is one of the original seven metals of alchemy and was represented by the symbol of a crescent moon. Silver is a precious metal, but it has never been as valuable as gold.

In Wales, silver has played an important role in the history of Wales, but this is often forgotten. In the northernmost part of Ceredigion (the old county of Cardiganshire) near to the village of Goginan lie a number of disused mines which were some of the richest silver producers in the history of the British Isles. The Romans almost certainly had a part to play in the discovery of the metal-rich mineral veins, but it was Queen Elizabeth I who oversaw their development as silver mines.

It is reported that the first rich discovery of silver was made at Cwmsymlog (sometimes written as Cum sum luck in historical records) mine in 1583 by Thomas Smythe, Chief Customs Officer for the Port of London. It is much more likely that it was discovered by Ulrich Frosse, a German mining engineer experienced in silver mining who visited the mine at about the same time and advised Smythe. During the reign of Elizabeth I it is estimated that 4 tons of silver was produced from the Cardiganshire mines.

King James I and King Charles I both made handsome profits from the mines (producing 7 and 100 tons of silver respectively), so much so that in 1638 Charles I decided to establish a mint nearby at Aberystwyth Castle. Its success ultimately led to its destruction by Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War in 1646.

Amgueddfa Cymru holds examples of the many silver coins minted at Aberystwyth. Their characteristic feature is the three feathers on both sides of the coin. The addition of a small open book at the top signifies that the silver was produced by Thomas Bushell from the Cardiganshire mines on behalf of the Company of Mines Royal.

Maps and mine plans produced to market the silver mines to investors are some of the earliest to have been made in Britain. The Library at AC-NMW holds several versions of William Waller’s maps produced for the Company of Mine Adventurers in 1693 and 1704 as well as Sir John Pettus’ Fodinae Regales published in 1670.

One of the mines, Bwlch-yr-eskir-hir [Esgair Hir], was much hyped as the Welsh Potosi and from the silver was produced a silver ewer inscribed ‘The Mines of Bwlch-yr-Eskir-hir’, c.1692. The mine was, however, a failure. The quantity of silver produced never lived up to expectations, but this was more to do with the geology than mining methods. It is perhaps better known as the site involved in a legal case against the Crown’s control over precious metals. The case, brought by the landowner Sir Carbery Pryse in 1693, ended the tyranny of the Mines Royal.

Productive silver mining continued in north Cardiganshire, firstly, under the Company of Mine Adventurers and then through the Industrial Revolution by a number of private companies. Total silver production within this part of Wales exceeded 150 tons of silver metal.

Remarkably, it took until the 1980s for geologists to identify the mineral responsible for the high concentrations of silver in the small area of Wales. It is tetrahedrite – a copper, zinc, iron, antimony sulphide mineral - within which silver can replace some of the copper, zinc and iron. At Esgair Hir mine tetrahedrite has been recorded as containing up to 18 wt. % silver. Important ore specimens used during the identification of this mineral are preserved in our geological collections at the Museum.

Naturally occurring silver metal – known as native silver – does not occur in visible concentrations in any of the Welsh mines, but the Museum holds some of the world’s finest examples in its mineral collection. The specimens, from the Kongsberg mine in Norway, are exceptional in their quality and were acquired during the 1980s as part of the R. J. King collection.

The National Waterfront Museum is one of the partners in the Angelshark Project, which aims to gather information, both current and historic, about this protected species, one of the rarest sharks in the world. Prior to a roadshow at the Museum on 15 and 16 February, Jake Davies, from the Zoological Society of London, shares his work.

Angels of Wales - How can you help?

Angel Shark Project: Wales is a pioneering new project with an aim to better understand and safeguard the Angelshark (Squatina squatina) in Wales through fisher-participation, heritage and citizen-science.

We are working with Amgueddfa Cymru and alongside fishers and coastal communities in Wales to better understand the Angelshark through gathering historic and current information about its life off the Welsh coast.

Angelsharks are large, flat-bodied sharks can reach 2.4m in length. Also known as monkfish or angel fish, they are sometimes mistaken for a ray or misrecorded as anglerfish. Angelsharks feed on a range of fish, crustaceans and molluscs and have an important role in maintaining a balanced marine ecosystem.

They are not threatening to humans, living mainly on sand or mud at the bottom of the sea, lying in wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Angelsharks are protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It is illegal to intentionally disturb, target, injure or kill Angelsharks within 12 nautical miles of Welsh and English coastlines.

The four major areas of the Angelshark Project are:

  1. Understand status and ecology of Angelsharks in Wales
  2. Fishers are stewards of Angelshark conservation
  3. Communities help unlock Angelshark heritage to share across the generations.
  4. Develop Wales’s Angelshark Action Plan to identify key steps to secure their future

As part of the historical research, Angel Shark Project: Wales will be running the Angelshark History Roadshow from January to March 2019 in five of the project’s focal regions: North Anglesey, the Llŷn Peninsula, Porthmadog to Aberarth, Fishguard to Milford Haven and Swansea to Porthcawl (though we also welcome information from across Wales). The free events provide the opportunity to bring your memories, photos or stories of Angelsharks (or any other interesting shark, skate or ray species off the Welsh Coast) and see how they help build our understanding of Wales’s rich maritime landscape. The roadshows will also be a good opportunity to meet the team and find out more about the project. The roadshow dates are:

Date Venue Location
25 & 26 Jan Llŷn Maritime museum Nefyn
11 & 12 Feb Milford Heritage Museum Milford Haven
15 & 16 Feb National Waterfront Museum Swansea
1 & 2 Mar The National Library of Wales Aberystwyth
4 & 5 March Sea Cadets Holyhead

Following the roadshows, we will be recruiting and training citizen scientists to continue the historical research by scouring local libraries, archives, historic magazines and museums. Information captured through this research will be digitalised and displayed in collaboration with Peoples Collection Wales and provided to the next generation via a History of Angels iBook.

Those who are interested in being part of the project but unable to attend the roadshows and would like to share memories or photographs of Angelsharks can get in touch at angelsharks@zsl.org to help save one of the rarest sharks in the world. You can report personal sightings and accidental captures of Angelsharks to the sightings webpage http://angelsharknetwork.com/#map or email angelsharks@zsl.org.

Angel Shark Project: Wales is led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government.

Angel Shark Project: Wales (PDF)
 

Hope that you have been following our Natural Science #MuseumAdvent Calendar

Our curators and scientists in the Natural Science Department at National Museum Cardiff have been choosing their favourite objects from the collections, to place behind the doors of our very own museum advent calendar. As it is Christmas Eve, all of the doors are now open and we wanted to share with you all of the wonderful 24 objects chosen, and the staff who have helped created it. 

Why not have a look back through all of the doors and find out about these amazing objects and specimens within Amgueddfa Cymru collections.

Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda oddi wrth @CardiffCurator
 
Merry Christmas and a happy new year from @CardiffCurator

We are busy preparing our Natural History #MuseumAdvent calendar and we couldn't resist sharing with you a sneak preview! This year the backdrop for the calendar is a snowy National Museum Cardiff. Each of our 24 natural science curators and scientists have selected one of their favourite objects from the collections to showcase each day. The advent calendar will feature on the @CardiffCurator Twitter account, so why not tune in each day and see what natural science specimen or object is behind each door. The calendar will feature plants, insects, sea worms, shells, fossils, minerals, seaweed and diatoms to name but a few. Once we have opened all of the doors, we will reveal the curators behind the favourite objects.