Amgueddfa Blog: Health, Wellbeing and Amgueddfa Cymru

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

Lucy McCobb, 16 November 2022

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

What did you do during the Covid-19 lockdown?  Did you enjoy getting closer to nature and seeing new things in your local area during your daily walks?  Two of the Museum’s Honorary Research Fellows, Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir, did just that and more, when they discovered a treasure trove of new fossils near their home in mid-Wales.  Unable to travel far or access Amgueddfa Cymru facilities to further their work on ancient life, these independent researchers crowdfunded to buy microscopes that would allow them to study their new finds in detail.  The fossils belong to a variety of different animal groups, some of them rarely fossilized because they have soft bodies with no hard shells, bones or teeth.  Joe and Lucy are working with other palaeontologists from around the world to study the fossils and decipher what they can tell us about life in Wales’ seas over 460 million years ago. 

In a paper just published in the journal Nature Communications - led by Dr Stephen Pates of Cambridge University and also involving Dr Joanna Wolfe of Harvard University, Joe, Lucy and colleagues describe two highly unusual fossils from the new site.  The fossils are tiny, entirely soft-bodied animals that resemble a bizarre creature called Opabinia, which lived in Canada over 40 million years earlier.  A similar animal called Utaurora was described from rocks of a comparable age in the USA.  Whether the Welsh fossils represent true cousins that belong in the same family as the North American creatures is uncertain, but they certainly reveal that strange ‘opabiniid’- like animals lived in the seas for much longer than previously thought and had a wider geographical range.

Where are the fossils from?

The fossils were discovered in a quarry on private land not far from Llandrindod Wells (the exact location is being kept secret to protect the site).  The rocks in which the fossils were found were laid down under the sea during the Ordovician period, over 460 million years ago, a time when what is now mid Wales was covered by an ocean, with a few volcanic islands here and there.

What kind of animals were they?

The Welsh fossils resemble strange animals known as ‘opabiniids’, until now only known from much older rocks from the Cambrian period.  They lived in the sea and were soft-bodied, with a long narrow trunk which had a row of flaps along each side, thought to have been used for swimming, and pairs of stumpy triangular legs on the underside. At one end of the trunk, there was a fan-like tail. 

Their most distinctive feature was at the other end - a long proboscis sticking out the front of the head, looking a bit like the hose of a vacuum cleaner.  In contrast to the Cambrian opabiniids, the proboscis of the Welsh species bears a row of small spines.  The proboscis is thought to have been flexible, perhaps used to pick up bits of food off the seabed and to move them to the mouth, which lay behind it on the underside of the head.  Both the legs and the proboscis were ‘annulated’, meaning they were made up of lots of ring-like segments.  However, these were not truly ‘jointed’ in the way that a crab or spider’s legs are jointed.  Opabiniids are thought to share a distant ancestor with these and other modern jointed-limbed animals known as ‘arthropods’, but weren’t direct ancestors of them.

The larger of the two fossils is 13 mm long, including a 3 mm long proboscis. The smaller one is just 3 mm, with its proboscis making up just under a third of its total length.  There are some differences between the two fossils that suggest that the smaller one may be an earlier growth stage of the larger species, or it may represent a different species entirely.  In any case, both Welsh individuals were much smaller than Opabinia, whose fossils are up to 7 cm long. 

A Welsh name for a Welsh wonder!

All species, living or extinct, have a scientific name made up of two parts, a genus name and a species name.  One of the new fossil animals has been given the scientific name Mieridduryn bonniae.  The species name is after Bonnie, niece of the owners of the land where the fossil was found and fossil fan, in recognition of the family’s support and enthusiasm for the work being carried out on the fossils.  It’s fairly common for new species to be named after people linked to their discovery or who have done a lot of work on related species. The genus name is more unusual and comes from the Welsh words for bramble, mieri and snout or proboscis, duryn.  It was inspired by the small thorn-like spines that stick out along the length of the animal’s proboscis.  It is very unusual for a scientific name to be based on the Welsh language, as traditionally most are derived from Latin or Greek words.  The name Mieridduryn will stand as a lasting tribute to the fossil’s country of origin.

It was decided that the second fossil wasn’t well enough preserved to be able to name it as either belonging to the same species as the first one, or to a different species. 

What can I do if I find an unusual-looking fossil?

As these fossils show, there are still lots of exciting new things to discover in Wales.  If you find something that looks interesting and you're not sure what it is, our Museum scientists would be happy to try to identify it for you, whether it's a fossil, rock, mineral, animal or plant.  Just send us a photo (with a coin or ruler included for scale) with details of where you found it.  You can contact us via our website or on Twitter @CardiffCurator.  We also have a number of spotters’ guides on our website, which will help you identify a lot of the more common things you’re likely to come across.

 

Opening of the National Museum October 1922

Kristine Chapman, 28 October 2022

On the 28th of October we will be celebrating 100 years since Amgueddfa Cymru first opened its doors to the public. Although the Museum's official centenary was in 2007, marking the founding by Royal Charter of 1907, the journey to opening was a much slower process characterised by delays and interrupted by the enormity of a world war.

After the granting of the Charter, architects were engaged to design the new building and the Foundation Stone was laid by George V on the 26th June 1912. The original intention was to complete the building in stages, so enough funds were raised to begin work on the south portion (which included the Main Hall) of the building.

Sepia-toned photograph of King George V and Queen Mary standing under a striped canopy at the ceremony to lay the Foundation Stone. The ladies are in long pale dresses with large hats and the men are in ceremonial military dress

Laying of the Foundation Stone 26th June 1912

When war broke out in 1914, work initially continued, as photographs from 1915 show, however before long the lack of building materials (particularly steel and lead) and labourers meant that work had to be halted. When it restarted again after the end of the war, the climate was very different. Britain experienced severe unemployment and poverty, plunging the country into a depression.

Photograph of the Museum under construction covered in scaffolding and cranes

Construction of the Museum building in Cathays Park, 1915

It was against this background that, even with building work still in progress, the western portion of the Main Hall was opened to the public on the 28th October 1922. Four days earlier the hoardings around the building had been removed and although there was no formal ceremony at this point, the Museum Court of Governors attended a visit of inspection, followed by lunch at City Hall with the Lord Mayor the day before.

Photograph of the exterior of the National Museum taken from the south-west. A few trees are in the foreground and one or two people can be seen walking around the building

View of the exterior of the Museum from the south-west

During the fifteen years since its foundation the Museum had been steadily employing staff and building collections. No guidebooks were produced for the informal opening, the first guide to the collections wasn’t published until a year later, but reports and photographs published in the local papers give us an idea of what those first visitors to the Museum would have seen. 

Photograph of the inside of the Main Hall with a grand staircase in the background, large columns supporting the ceiling and sculptures of figures dotted about

View of the Main Hall looking towards the western staircase

The Main Hall housed large sculptures such as The Kiss by Auguste Rodin and St John the Baptist by William Goscombe John. From the Main Hall visitors could enter the Glanely Gallery (now known as the Clore Discovery Gallery) to view geology collections, particularly rocks and minerals found in Wales. While in the square gallery across the opposite side of the Hall were the Zoology collections, occupying a space they still hold now, although the displays have been updated since those early days! 

A photograph of eight taxidermy stoats with various seasonal coats ranging from bright white to dark and standing on a model of rocks

Stoat display from the Zoology Gallery

Upstairs in the Pyke Thompson Gallery (now known as Gallery 18) the focal points were watercolour drawings once belonging to James Pyke Thompson and a collection of Welsh ceramics donated in 1918 by Wilfred de Winton. Across the bridge in the square gallery, oil paintings from the Menelaus Bequest were displayed.

Photograph of the interior of the Pyke Thompson Gallery, framed pictures line the walls and a glass cabinet of Welsh China stands in the centre of the room

The Pyke Thompson Gallery in 1925

The Archaeology Department did not have a gallery of their own at the time of the 1922 opening, as it would form part of the building still undergoing construction. But, a year later objects from the Archaeology collections were displayed in the Main Hall and on the balconies, before moving to a more permanent space in the first-floor front gallery (which is now occupied by the Welsh Ceramics collection). By 1925 they had also installed the Welsh Bygones galleries, with reconstructions of a Welsh kitchen and a Welsh bedroom, in a gallery at the back of the Main Hall and the Botany collections occupied the south-east front gallery on the ground floor (the area which is now the Welsh Herbarium).

Photograph of the interior of the Archaeology Gallery; there are four large glass cabinets containing Roman pottery standing in the centre of the room

The Archaeology Gallery in 1925

The layout of the Museum remained this way until the construction of the East Wing in the 1930s prompted a large-scale rearrangement of the galleries. Further alterations were made throughout the rest of the 20th century as the West Wing was constructed in the 1960s and then the Centre Block galleries were added in the early 1990s.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of Amgueddfa Cymru, keep an eye out for more blogs and articles appearing on our website over the coming months.

Patchwork of Memories – Remembrance and grief during Covid 19

Loveday Williams, 13 July 2022

In 2020 Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Cymru came together to support people across the country through their grief and create a lasting memorial full of memories to those lost during the time of Covid-19. It involved creating a square patch containing a memory of a loved one, in which ever way people chose, in whatever words or images they liked. Each patch created demonstrated a visual display of lasting memories of someone they loved who had died, created in unprecedented times.  50+ patches were sent to the Museum and have been carefully sewn together to form a Patchwork of Memories.

For the last two year we have all lived very different lives, with change to our normal the only constant. Losing a loved one is always hard but usually we have the comfort of others and collective mourning at funerals to help us say goodbye and share our memories.  However, a death in the last two years has meant many of us being cut off from our support networks and our rituals or remembrance being altered.  

Rhiannon Thomas, previous Learning Manager at St Fagans said about this project “Helping people with grief is something that I am personally passionate about. Having worked with Cruse Bereavement Support previously to support families I felt the Museum was able to help families dealing with loss in a different way.  Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Wales came together to create a project based around creativity and memory, the aim being to make a lasting memorial to those who have died during the pandemic.” 

Creating something is not a new response to grief, there are several Embroidery samplers in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections made in memory of loved ones or marking their passing.   This sampler by M.E. Powell was created in 1906 in memory of her mother.   Creativity during difficult times of our lives can help all of us to express deep held emotions that we do not always have the ability to put into words. 

Bereavement Support Days

Alongside the Patchwork of Memories initiative, the Cruse / Museum Partnership also provide a safe inspirational space for the increasing numbers of children and young people awaiting bereavement support and help meet the diverse needs of bereaved children, young people and families who benefit from coming together to rationalise, explore and understand that they are not alone in their grief. 

A series of quarterly Bereavement Support Days are held in partnership with St Fagans, for children, young people and their families experiencing grief and loss. There is specialist support from Cruse staff and volunteers along with art and craft activities provided by Head for Arts and immersive Virtual Reality experiences provided by PlayFrame, which are light-hearted, allowing people attending the chance to make and create things that can be taken home with them and or captured and stored into a virtual memory box. The activities available are designed to stimulate rather that prompt.

Here is the film created by PlayFrame on Ekeko, the virtual memory space they have been creating alongside this project, installing objects, memories and stories donated by participants into a virtual memory box for people to enter and explore:

https://youtu.be/KoQE00ff-rc 

And a link the virtual reality memory space itself: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/6371190072951353/

Alison Thomas, Cruse CYP Wales Lead said “Cruse Bereavement Support Wales provides in person support to children and young people within a variety of settings, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for grieving children and young people. Their collective support on these days allows families the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. The focus of the Bereavement Support days is around children and young people, however, the benefits resonate through the whole family including the adults in attendance, some of whom require bereavement support on the day, most of whom stay for the duration and share a cuppa and chat with other bereaved parents and guardians. Following the session, the whole family can have a look around the Museum and spend time together in a safe and nurturing setting.”

Here are some of the written (in their own handwriting) evaluation feedback quotes from children, young people and parents / guardians who have attended the Bereavement Days:

'I feel calmer, less worried.  It was good being able to speak to people my age who understood what I'm going through.'

'I was very included in all the activities and was always involved in conversation.  There was a calm atmosphere making it easier to speak to people there.'

'I was very welcomed and was immediately approached by a friendly face.  It was very inviting and was easy to speak to people there.'

'HAPPY' 🙂

'Love 🙂 happy'

'Thank you Diolch, Diolch 🙂'

A mother of one of the young people said 'I feel much better than I did.'

Another mother said 'All was lovely, made to feel welcome, everything we did was good and the girls enjoyed themselves.'

The two memory quilts will be competed by the end of August 2022, following which we will hold a final project event with Cruse Bereavement Support Wales on 25th September at St Fagans National Museum of History, where we will display the two quilts and invite both the contributors who sent squares and the participants from the Bereavement Support Days to attend, along with the public, to see the quilts and share their experiences of taking part in the process.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Winter of Wellbeing: Tip Tops project

Mali Dafydd, 29 March 2022

Tip Tops was a project devised to up-skill young learners who are operating outside the current conventional school system, in the art of making clothes by hand, reusing waste and locally produced fabrics. They worked on a weekly process from mid January until 23 March 2022, cutting patterns and re-creating anew in Stiwdio 3, Cardigan. Here's the experience of Mali, who took part in the workshops: 

I was quite nervous when I walked into the room, for I didn’t know many of the people there. But then we all introduced ourselves and I felt a lot better as most of the people were my age. I was rather worried they would be a lot older than me.

When I first saw the pattern it looked very complicated, I had never followed a proper pattern before and I was a bit intimidated.

We were shown how it all fitted together and it was a lot simpler than it had looked originally - I was very glad! All the different panels that made up the pattern actually allowed you to experiment a lot. Some of the other people found a fabric that looked like it was made out of lots of squares. When the pieces all got sown together it looked really cool!

The TipTops are very fun to sew. Though I am not very good at matching the squares up, but hopefully I get better! My favourite part of the TipTop is the halter neck as it makes it feels very elegant.

When we finished the mock-up I really liked it, and I felt happy, though slightly tired.

My favourite fabric so far is probably the denim. It’s a very retro look when you combine the different denims together - it’s also very nice to sew. It would be very cool if we could try pattern matching.

The trip to the woollen museum was fun. Though the machines looked terrifying! One of the people that worked there even showed us how one of the looms worked. It looked very time consuming and the bobbins ran out really quickly. In Victorian times they would have children crawl under the machines to get rid of the loose wool. I would definitely not like to work there!

I really enjoyed this course and it was mega fun! I would love to do it again!

Take a look at the video which share some of the project highlights:

Winter of Wellbeing: That time I lay in the woods for an hour: Nature connection, wellbeing and young people

David Urry, 10 March 2022

I plunge my face into the leaf litter on the forest floor and take in the earthy aroma: a sweet mix of damp decay and mossy greens. Have I gone mad? Quite possibly, but no more than most; stuck in a modern world that doesn’t quite make sense, worried too much about too many things, and rarely remembering to stop, look up and breathe. Down here, hidden in this hollow, under a canopy of gently swaying oaks, cheek pressed into the dark rich soil, I actually feel more normal than I have in a while.  

Truth is, I woke up fairly miserable this morning.  Sadly, it’s not uncommon, and frustratingly, it’s often not clear why, or what has caused it. As a result, I tend to focus on what I can control and change. Sometimes, that means a change of scene.  

Nature Connectedness and the Wheel of Wellbeing 

Recently, since working on the Winter of Wellbeing Programme (WoW), it has got me thinking more about what makes me well. At the same time, separately, I have been reading a lot into the power of Nature Connectedness. So, with both of these in mind, I wrapped myself up and headed to the nearest clearing of trees. I am fortunate to have this on my doorstep.  

‘Nature Connectedness’ is the sort of thing that is easy to dismiss as a bit ‘flowery’, but there is an increasing body of evidence showing the restorative power of Nature, the value of access to nature, and crucially, the importance of feeling a connection with nature. In fact, there is a whole research group at the University of Derby working on just this.

As part of the WoW project, we have been using the ‘Wheel of Wellbeing’ as a way of understanding and measuring the elements that make us feel well: Body (be active), Mind (keep learning), Spirit (give), People (connect), Place (take notice), Planet (care). It became clear to me that each of these elements can be nourished through time in nature, something I am keen to explore through the WoW project, as well as through my own forays into the forest!  

The benefits of a connection to Nature  

Nature is a profound teacher and healer, and a sanctuary for those fortunate enough to access and connect with it. When you spend time in Nature, it almost instantly creates a physical change in you - reducing levels of stress, lowering blood pressure, helping you focus and concentrate - as well as a number of other tangible and well documented positive effects, especially around mental health

These benefits are amplified the more we feel a connection to Nature.  Sadly, for many, Nature remains hidden or unnoticed, and their feelings of connection hang by a thread. This is particularly true amongst young people, especially teenagers, where there is a natural dip in connection with nature, just when they might benefit most from the improved physical and mental health associated with Nature connection; to free themselves from social anxieties and find some identity, security and meaning in the otherwise manic world around them.  

Five pathways to connection  

A crucial step, of course, is finding a ‘way-in’ for young people, both physically and emotionally. Many don’t have easy access to nature in the first place, or have little interest, even if they are surrounded by it. Meaningful and lasting connections can’t be forced. They must be made in our own time and in own way. Yet, there are a few things that can be done to facilitate and encourage this.  Even urban environments are bursting with life, which means you don’t have to be in a forest or beautiful flower meadow for Nature to cast its spell. Sadly, most of us have lost the knack of noticing, so rarely dedicate time to truly see and appreciate Nature.   

To help open up our eyes and minds, and bring us closer to nature, the University of Derby have developed 5 pathways to greater connection (https://www.derby.ac.uk/blog/5-ways-closer-nature/): 

  • Contact – multisensory, tangible experiences 

  • Beauty – Engaging with the aesthetic ‘awe-inspiring’ qualities of Nature.  

  • Meaning - thinking about the meaning and signs of nature and what they mean to individuals.  

  • Emotion – Finding and exploring emotional bonds with, and love, for nature 

  • Compassion - Extending the self to include nature, leading to moral and ethical concern 

These were consistently found to be important and effective at making people feel closer to nature, which makes them useful for individuals, educators and practitioners when thinking about the sort of activities and exercises that will create connection with Nature. 

The Natural Health Service 

Even amongst those who would consider themselves connected to Nature, like myself, it is all too easy to forget to nourish it, to go back to the source and refresh now and again. Perhaps we need to view it as less of a luxury and more of an essential part of our human existence, where we are part of Nature rather than separate and sanitised. That is why it is great to see moves towards green social prescribing in the NHS, including research and pilot projects in Wales.

With all of this in mind, back in the middle of my own mini wellbeing crisis, it is tempting to stay a little longer here in this earthy embrace, let a few more winter leaves fall and settle on my back. By the time I finally pull myself up and dust myself down, I have totally lost track of how long I have been here and realise I should probably get back - I’ve still got work to do after all! But now, at least, with moss in my hair and flecks of mud on my cheek, I feel in a slightly better state to tackle it.