Amgueddfa Blog: Natural History

The @CardiffCurator Twitter account tweets the latest news, research and events from the Natural Sciences Department at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. This can be anything from shells, insects, plants and fossils to minerals and birds. From specimens in our collections, to an insight of the research that happens every day just beyond the museum gallery walls. So what are our followers most interested in?

Here's a look back at the TOP TWEET and TOP MEDIA TWEET of each month during 2016 from the the account: TOP TWEETS 2016

 

Here at the Mary Gillham Archive Project hub we’ve recently begun ‘timehopping’ on social media.

This involves using Mary’s detailed writings to find out what she was doing on today’s date, so many years ago, and then posting it on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. “on this date, in this year, Mary was doing this…”). It’s an interesting way to learn about Mary’s life history and see the many activities that she got up to in her day-to-day life.

A recent and particularly intriguing timehop posted on 16th October described how on that day in 1982, Mary witnessed the enormous humpback whale lying washed up on Gilestone beach at Aberthaw, near the Power Station.

This sparked the interest of many and after a twitter conversation with National Museum Cardiff it turns out that the bones of the whale are now on display at the museum, right here in Cardiff! This means that you can still visit this gigantic sea mammal today and see a part of Welsh history with your own eyes, just like Mary did.

Crowds on Aberthaw Beach

For those fortunate enough to be there in 1982 Aberthaw, the experience was an unforgettable one.

In her archive, Mary explains that it was almost “impossible to photograph the whale” due to the thousands of people congregating to get a glimpse.

The coastguard had tied the tail of the whale to a large iron post in the ground with ropes (to prevent the animal from washing back out to sea).

Mary describes how she got the chance to hold one of the whale’s gigantic flippers while Piers Langhalt, formerly of National Museum Cardiff, cut the large barnacles from the animal. These same barnacles can be found preserved at the museum, alongside the whale!

One volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Julia Banks, recalls the “overpowering, rotting smell” of the beached whale that she witnessed as a young child. Julia visited the scene with her parents and remembers joining the masses of locals all gathering for the unusual sight, as well as seeing a group of people measuring the whale in order to figure out its age.

Julia also remembers visiting National Museum Cardiff when the skeleton was put up on display, and “feeling proud that [their] whale was in the museum”.

For more of the story and info on how the whale was managed by National Museum Cardiff, why not take a trip to the museum to see for yourself how it stands today?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is a Heritage Lottery funded project at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
For more info about the project visit our website: https://marygillhamarchiveproject.com/the-project/

 

 

The Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales organised the sixth Unknown Wales for the 8th October. The day to celebrate Welsh wildlife was funded by a generous donation from a museum patron. This year, Dr Richard Bevins, head of the Natural Sciences Department, welcomed a record 240 members of the public to the Reardon Smith lecture theatre at National Museum Cardiff. Attendees came from across South and Mid-Wales as well as from over the Channel in Bristol.

We had overwhelming feedback this time - 88 people have responded. A third of respondents were new to the event, but many people return every year:

“As usual superb presentations by passionate presenters, many thanks”

“Gwych unwaith eto – dw i’n dod pob blwyddyn, diolch!"

We always aim for a broad range of natural history topics delivered in an accessible way:

“A really enjoyable day and very well pitched at all generations and interests”

“John Archer-Thomson – very engaging speaker, made a potentially dry subject [limpets] interesting and informative. Lovely films of Pine Martens.”

A-level and University students felt the topics were relevant to their studies.

“The enthusiasm of the speakers for their subjects, the beautiful location and applying real ecological issues to my studies (I am a student at Cardiff Uni studying biology)”

“Fungi and colliery spoils were especially interesting and the limpets talk gave information that’s very helpful for A-level biology”

Our special guest was Prof. Mike Benton from Bristol University. He spoke about how the discovery of Wales’s newest dinosaur, Dracoraptor hanigani, tells us more about the origins of the dinosaurs.

“Good to see Palaeontology within context of contemporary talk…Fab.”

People have given us many suggestions for topics for next time; “foraging”, “bats” or “urban greening” are just some of the ideas that could be appearing in the future.

We sacrificed question and answer time to enable speakers to finish their talks. However, feedback showed many people missed the interactive aspect. There was some chance for people to talk to speakers informally alongside the displays in the Oriel Suite at lunch, but we acknowledge this is not a substitute for audience participation at the time of the talks.

The Storify article shows how people followed the event live on the day via social media: https://storify.com/CardiffCurator/unknown-wales-2016

For first time we have created a display using the museum collections to link into topics covered at the event. We have just incorporated some of the feedback we received into it. The display is at the top for the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff and runs until 30th October 2016.

 

 

This week’s Youth Forum again made me think about museums and what they can do, and how they should be, in a different way.

While looking at art from the First World War had at times been a sensory overload, this time we were trying to understand what it would be like to come to a museum without one specific sense fully intact. How to make museum exhibits more accessible for the partially sighted?

Having always gone to museums with my sight in (near enough) tip top condition, I and probably others tended to presume it was a pretty necessary requirement. If I had trouble seeing the paintings/sculptures/artefacts, then I don’t think I’d want to go. Because if seeing is believing, and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to be learning about, then surely I wouldn’t learn very much and would end up feeling quite left out, even though this obviously shouldn’t be the case.

And it doesn’t have to be! The paintings and sculptures that we looked up were a bit of a mix, ones that more well-known and some that were completely new. Among the ideas that we came up with, for example, involved the painting Bad News, by James Tissot, incorporating the playing of military marching music alongside the painting to evoke the solemnity and sorrow of leaving your family to go off and fight in another corner of the world.

Similarly, for Entrance to Cardiff Docks by Lionel Walden, lighting effects could imitate the lights of the port and the surrounding buildings, with sound effects of ships coming into port, water slapping against the quay, sailors shouting to each other. We could have smells to add to the experience (although maybe not the fish!). Instead of rough sailors accompanying Manet’s San Maggiore by Twilight, it would be the gentle, joyful peel of Italian church bells.

In front of a painting of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Thomas Apperly and Edward Hamilton by Pompeo Batoni there could be a table with the objects and chairs laid out exactly as they are in the picture, as if the subjects had just finished the sitting and left only a few moments ago. David Nash’s intriguing sculpture Multi-Cut Column could have smaller imitations made of it, that people could actually pass around and touch, something rarely allowed in any exhibit. 

I realise there would be some technical issues in making sure it wasn’t distracting or taking away from the other exhibits, and that maybe not all these ideas will actually become a finished product, but I hope that at least some of them do work out. Because who wouldn’t want to experience this? It might be a bit like theatre, the art being brought to life, stepping into the painting. While I’m definitely thankful I’m not visually impaired in any way, I’m also thankful I took the time to try and understand the experience of those who are. 
 

  • Our next Audio Description Tour will take place on 8 December and will be of our Natural History collections.

Display for Unknown Wales at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd / National Museum Cardiff

The Unknown Wales event is this Saturday 8 October 2016 – now in its 6th year. People are invited to National Museum Cardiff’s Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre to listen to talks celebrating Welsh wildlife. For the first time, we have created a small display in the Museum’s galleries to complement these talks.

Our Natural Science curators chose the specimens on display from the millions available in the Museum’s collections. The collections are diverse, including pressed plants, fossils, taxidermy animals, fluid-preserved worms, pinned insects, and more. Look out for the Unknown Wales display case at the top of the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff.

At Unknown Wales this year, eight speakers will tell us about their research into garden birds, Pine Martens, limpets, fungi, coal tip invertebrates, and the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. Finally, we are pleased to welcome Professor Mike Benton who will bring last year’s big discovery, the new Welsh Dinosaur, back to life for us. Listen back to the BBC Wales Science Cafe preview of the event: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07ws0hj

Book a place at the Unknown Wales day this Saturday 8 October, 10am - 4pm (free entry): https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9247/Unknown-Wales-A-Celebration-of-Welsh-Wildlife/

 

Here's a round-up of what happened at Unknown Wales 2015.