Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

What was I thinking when I said yes?

 

Soapbox Science is a fantastic initiative to promote the role of women in science by getting them to stand on a soapbox in the middle of a city centre and explain to and, hopefully, enthuse, people about what they do. This year, the Cardiff event is being held on 2nd June, outside Cardiff Central Library, by the St David’s Centre (see poster).

 

So again, what was I thinking?

 

Well actually, I was thinking that most people don’t understand taxonomy, what it is and why it’s important, let alone why I would want to look at worms all day, and I want to tell them.

 

I want them to understand why it is important, not just to me, but why they should care too. Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms (showing how they are all related to each other and patterns of evolution). It is just one aspect of my job but the one that often gets the most interest and questions and, I think, possibly the least understood part. In 2010, the Census of Marine Life returned an estimate of over one million species living in the oceans, of which around one to two thirds are thought to be unknown. Add to that more recent research that shows that many species are, in fact, species complexes that consist of multiple species that are almost indistinguishable in appearance and, actually, the estimate of undescribed species suddenly rockets.

 

But so what? Why should people care about whether we know what all the different creatures in the sea are and give them names? Well, that is what I want to explain along with a little about how we come up with names. To this end I now have the job of ‘creating’ a worm that people can help name on the day using various features and information that I will tell them. Names tell you something about the animal, sometimes appearance, sometimes where it is from, but importantly, names are unique and help you identify that one animal from a group of others that may look very similar.

 

The montaged image on this page is just one of two that I have created to show people what marine bristleworms (polychaetes) look like. Most people think of earthworms when you talk about worms but actually polychaetes are so much more: more colourful, more detailed, many have eyes and jaws and some can even grow big enough to bite you! They all have interesting names that I will help explain to demonstrate what names mean.

 

Intrigued? Want to know more? Then come down to the event on Saturday 2nd June and find out how we name species and why it is important!

(http://soapboxscience.org/soapbox-science-2018-cardiff/)

The National Museum Cardiff was happy to host a behind the scenes tour to Brecon Detectorists, a group of keen treasure hunters who jumped at the opportunity to delve into the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales archives.

David Hingley set up Brecon Metal Detecting club in 2011 and is enthusiastic about promoting responsible metal detecting to its members. “Everyone who comes through that door has a condition of membership – everything over a certain age has got to be registered for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, I insist upon it,” David explains. “We’re a small club, we’ve basically capped ourselves at 10. At the moment we’re 9, we’ve had a new guy just started, the big fella, Tom.”

And newcomer, Tom Haines, is no stranger to historical finds. Even before joining the club, he shared David’s passion for responsible detecting. While out walking his dog one day last year, Tom discovered a Bronze Age knife; which he reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme so it could be properly excavated.

“By reporting it, archaeologists might want to dig it, and that ended up being the case,” he recalls. “I could have taken it home, plonked it in my own collection and no one would have learnt anything from it and it would have just crumbled away. It’s being properly preserved and looked after and archaeologists can learn a lot from it.”

The knife was just the tip of the iceberg, however, and his discovery led archaeologists to unearth a Bronze Age burial site, complete with cremated human remains. “They found a bronze age pin in there so it was a good thing that I didn’t disturb that!” The knife and pin, as well as the urn in which they (and charred bone) were discovered is currently pending through the treasure process. The hoard will likely be acquired by Brecon Museum thanks to the Saving Treasures* project.

It’s this interest in preserving archaeological artefacts that brought the club to the museum – to discover just how important their finds can be to museum researchers, conservationists and of course, archaeologists and historians.

The club’s tour kick started in the stores with Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales Liaison Officer, Mark Lodwick, where they were able to view and handle some fascinating Bronze Age axe heads. Among them was a ribbed socketed axe head found in Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan back in 2013 that was curiously stuffed with another, bent axe head and (seemingly) ritualistically buried.

From the stores, the group moved onto the conservation labs. Conservationists Louise Mumford and Owen Lazzari were on hand to answer any queries they may have when it comes to storing their non-treasure finds and show the club some exciting pieces they are currently working on. One of the most impressive pieces was a Viking period sword from Hawarden, which had been wrapped in textile and showed traces of a horn grip – all of which had been preserved by the rust formed on the sword! When x-rayed, the amount of original metal sword that had been left was minimal, so if the rust had been removed, Louise would not have been able to find the horn and textile traces and the sword would have been indistinguishable. Luckily, with careful excavation the sword could be professionally conserved and the horn and textile discovered – these elements could easily have had all traces of removed if proper procedure was not followed.

Another fascinating find in the conservation labs was a late Iron Age or Romano-British tankard, found as part of a hoard at Langstone that was still mostly in-tact, the wood having been preserved – a very delicate piece indeed!

The club were then able to see artefacts come to life in the art department, with resident artist Tony Daley.

David Hingley believes the visit to the museum was very helpful for both himself and his members: “I can understand the need for detectorists to be instructed in how to handle and store artefacts, and that more literature should be made available.” He explained that he learnt a lot and this new information can be put into immediate practise within in the club. David already keeps his own extensive coin collection (all of which have been processed and recorded by Mark Lodwick at AC-NMW) in acid free paper envelopes – essential for preventing further metal corrosion!

 “All the clubs try to instigate in all their members that you’ve got to detect responsibly. You’ve got to have permission and you’ve got to have the right gear. If you dig a hole in someone’s field – you’ve got to look at it from your own perspective - What would you say to someone if they came into your back garden and dug a hole in your lawn and then left it without filling it? You’d go mad, wouldn’t you?”  But this isn’t the only aspect of responsible detecting and David is keen to promote the other obligations detecting requires, such as the preservation of the objects themselves, “I am continually preaching to our members!”

David feels that more metal detectorists could benefit from taking the time to learn about the role of museums and conservation in particular. “In the field you watch detectorists kick open clods to see what’s in it - they do not seem to understand that it could contain a very fragile artefact a couple of hundred years old; and they break it or they find equally fragile artefacts and put them in pockets and not containers.”

*Saving Treasures; Telling Stories is helping museums in Wales to acquire the important finds discovered by metal detectorists like David, Tom and their club members. For more information on the project, click here.

Hello, Michelle and Alisha here – we are third year journalism students from the University of South Wales.

We are at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, on a one-week work placement with Saving Treasures; Telling Stories. We thought it would be interesting to study a topic completely unknown to us for our work experience, to broaden our understanding of history and how it affects us.

To begin our week, we were introduced to several museum professionals in the Archaeology department and had the opportunity to learn about the day to day running of museums and see all the work that goes on behind the scenes!  

Before working at the museum, we thought that treasure was what we’d seen in the movies - glittering chests of gold coins and shiny jewels! But when we were shown the stores in the cellar, we realised that not all artefacts are pretty to look at and many items declared treasure are of higher historical value than financial reward.

We were able to see the Conservation department, where they work to restore and carefully conserve items for the museum collections. This includes archaeological artefacts, but also pieces from the department of natural history.

After our initial exploration of the museum, our task for the week was to produce an article investigating how museums are funded and how beneficial donating archaeological finds can be to museum collections. In order to create the article, we were set a number of tasks, this included carrying out several over the phone interviews with museum curators from various museums across Wales. With plenty of research, we finally got down to business and wrote the feature, which will hopefully be published very soon!

We have really enjoyed our week in the museum, learning new things. We will miss our new friends – Alice and Rhianydd, who have been really kind and attentive during our placement. We look forward to coming back to visit and seeing new items being declared treasure.

For more information about the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Portable Antiquites Scheme in Wales, click here.

Hello everyone, my name’s Eirini and I am a student intern in the Archaeology and Numismatics department at NMW, Cardiff. This post is the second in my series of blogs on the numismatics collection at the Museum. Last time I took a look at the collection of Ancient Greek coins and this week I am back to examine the Roman coin collection.

While the Ancient Greeks never set foot in Wales, the Romans invaded in AD 48 so there have been a great deal of Roman coins found and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Here are a few of my favourites from the collections.

Hoard of silver denarii found in Wick, Vale of Glamorgan (c. AD 165)

The 2 oldest coins date back to the Republic and are both coins of Mark Anthony while the rest date to the Empire. The front side of all of the Empire coins have portraits of an emperor, ranging from Nero (AD 54-68) to Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180).

The most interesting aspect of this coin hoard is the variety of reverse designs on them! There are many coins dating to the reigns of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and Trajan (AD 98-117). These coins predominately feature deities and personifications on their reverse sides. Some examples of the deities featured include Jupiter, Hercules and Mars. One design that sticks out to me is the personification of peace (Pax) holding an olive branch, sceptre and cornucopia (a horn that symbolises abundance). Other personifications include Pietas (duty) and Felicitas (good fortune).

There is an extensive variety of other reverse types on the coins including representations of the emperor and his family, types of military conquest and victories, legionary types, geographical imagery, architecture, animals and propaganda.

I like how varied the imagery is on these Roman coins as later coins found in Sully (c. AD 320), Bridgend (c. AD 310) and Llanbethery (c. AD 350) as well as our modern coins tend to have the same, repeated imagery on their reverse.

Sully Hoard of copper-alloy coins (c. AD 320)

This hoard is one of the largest hoards of Roman coins found in Wales. An incredible 5913 coins were discovered in two locations, 3 metres apart in the South Wales coastal village of Sully.

The latest coins from this collection all have the same reverse design regardless of where they were minted, from London to Rome –they represent an early single currency with a standardised design not found in the earlier hoards.

However, the designs on these coins are more crude and less detailed than the earlier Roman finds.

Great British Mollusca Types Project: A union database for the UK

The GB types project began 2 years ago with 6 mollusc curators from National Museum Cardiff and Natural History Museum, London leading the way. The idea - to find, document and make available online as many mollusc types as possible in 7 Museums around the UK. The project funded by the John Ellerman Foundation (Regional Museums and Galleries Fund) worked with Glasgow Museums, Glasgow Hunterian, World Museum, Liverpool, Newcastle Museums, Leeds Museums, Machester Museum and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. From October 2016, the process began of visiting the collections at each of the partner museums to locate known and potential mollusc type specimens. The specimens were loaned to National Museum Cardiff or the Natural History Museum for specialist photography, databasing and research. For the first time, data from these nine institutions will be recorded permanently on an internationally accessible online database: https://gbmolluscatypes.ac.uk/

Over 95 potential mollusc types were borrowed from LeedsMuseums, mostly from the extensive collection of Sylvanus C. T. Hanley. The collections contain many type figured and cited specimens of international importance.

Over 150 types were borrowed, researched and photographed from McrMuseum, many of these molluscs were named by Melvill and Standen at the end of the 19th Century.

Mollusc types in GMRCNitshill / GlasgowMuseums include 150 year-old types of Thomas Gray and Carl Westerlund. Thanks to Richard Sutcliffe, & former curator Fred Woodward for GB types work in the 1970s-1980s

Hancock, Alder and Angas collections dominate the GNM_Hancock Mollusca collections and the fluid-preserved nudibranchs proved tricky to photograph!

The mollusc collections at the hunterian are rich in historic material going back to Cook’s voyages, the Duchess of Portland and Laskey. They hold the infamous holotype of Gray’s Strombus listeri and several types of Godwin-Austen.

Over 100 of Col. George Montagu’s shell types were discovered at RAMMuseum. These as well as some found at NHM_London were presented in the following paper.

Marrat’s Olives and Nassas dominated the mollusc type material at World_Museum, easily found thanks to curator Nora McMillan who worked on the collection 1933-2000.

You can see more of the Twitter highlights following this project with the hash tag #GBMolluscaTypes or this Twitter Moment