Amgueddfa Blog: Archaeology

Standing on what felt like the top of the world and slowly regaining our breaths back, they were soon taken away again when looking at the awe inspiring landscape of Whiteford Sands in Swansea Bay.

Swansea Museum is working on a project called ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’, which is funded by the help of the ‘Saving Treasures; Telling Stories’ project. Saving Treasures is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is acquiring archaeological objects for local and national collections, providing training for heritage professionals and volunteers and engaging local communities with their pasts.

Last week the museum teamed up with young people from Swansea YMCA, The National Trust and The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeology Trust to hike around Whiteford Sands in the Gower area of Swansea Bay. This walk was intended to give us an understanding of the changing landscape of Swansea Bay since the Bronze Age.

The images shows a variety of people at the bottom of a hill in a woodland area; they are about to go on a long walk.

Young people from Swansea YMCA, The National Trust and The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeology Trust members are gearing up for a hike in the Whiteford sands area in Swansea.

The Landscape

Corinne Benbow is a National Trust Ranger and she led the first half of the walk up a very steep hill in order to get the best viewpoints overlooking the beach and woodland areas.

Corinne explained that what we could see was quite unspoiled, she said: “You’re looking at quite an ancient landscape and it wouldn’t have changed that much since the Bronze Age.”

Pointing over towards the coastline, Corinne spoke about how the landscape has slightly changed over the years.

This piece of land is actually brand new and doesn’t belong to anyone as it has only appeared over the last twenty-five years; that’s because of the sand being washed in and building up. The new dunes get washed away and are then re-built back up; so it’s always shifting, but is basically the same as it’s been for thousands of years.”

This is a picture fromon top of a hill. You can see the beach, the sea and a woodland area.

The view of the Bay from above

Hidden Secrets

After a lunch break and water painting session of the landscape, we continued our walks through the woods, over the sand dunes and onto the pebbly beach. It was here where Paul Huckfield, an archaeologist from the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeology Trust, revealed some hidden treasures found on the beach.

Paul said: “We are currently stood on a prehistoric ground surface which was originally a forest. This dates back to the late Mesolithic, early Neolithic age at around 5000-4000 BC. As you can see the remains of the trees around you are still here.”

At a first glance you would assume the trees were drift wood washed ashore, but they were in fact, alder trees almost 7000 years old. Paul explained how the landscape which is currently a sandy beach area would have actually been a woodland area similar to the one we walked through. 

Why were they a secret?

Nobody knew these 7000 year old trees even existed until they were found between 2010- 2012 when the beach lost some of its sand and the trees came to light.

The images shows a beach on a spring day. It is a rocky beach which dates back to the mesolithic era.

Standing on Prehistoric ground surface.

The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project is a partnership project between Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales (The FED) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) promoting the portable archaeological heritage of Wales through acquiring finds made by the public. The project secured Heritage Lottery Grant funding in October 2014 through the Collecting Cultures programme and runs for five years.

It will help Swansea Museum to acquire and safeguard items of portable heritage with special significance to Swansea Bay for the people of Swansea. It will also enable the museum to work with local communities to engage with and explore these treasures and to find out more about Swansea Bay

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales and The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project have teamed up with the University of South Wales and students on the journalism course.

Working in the Archaeology and Communications departments, using their media and journalistic knowledge, the students will be bringing to life significant archaeological discoveries and telling the stories behind the items and the people who found them. There will be a series of two week work placements from a variety of students.

Here’s what our most recent students had to say about their time working on Saving Treasures; Telling Stories:

Our experience working on Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project

Coming from a journalism background we were anticipating our placement with the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project and had a lot of questions of what to expect.

What is Archaeology?

What do Archaeologists do?

And what is the Saving Treasures Project?

On our first day Rhianydd, Mark, Adam and the rest of the team were more than welcoming which is always reassuring when on a work placement. They spent the day showing us some mesmerising objects found during archaeological excavations or by metal detectorists and then teaching us everything we needed to know (which wasn’t easy as there are a lot to remember!) It was fascinating for us to begin to understand objects dating back thousands of years ago and their significance to our lives at present.

Here is where the fun started.

What we did

The rest of our first week we travelled around South Wales to places such as Swansea and Brecon to start recording our interviews about some of the most recently discovered objects.

It was a gloomy and rainy Tuesday but nevertheless we travelled to Brecon to meet with Nigel Blackamore and the team at Brecknock Museum (they even gave us biscuits!) who let us spend the day interviewing in their library.

We interviewed a local metal detectorist as well as a married couple who, over forty years ago, found a dagger in Swansea Bay and have kept it ever since for good luck and as a symbol of their relationship. An earlier blog about the Swansea Bay dagger can be found here.

We also spoke to Nigel about the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the future of museums; as a journalist it’s all about telling stories and getting important information to the public.

Roqib also had the chance of fulfilling a lifetime dream of holding a metal detector. (He was really excited).

A man is holding a metal detector in a court yard with a smile on his face

Our student journalist, Roqib, is happy to give metal detecting a go.

Putting our journalism skills to work

On the Wednesday we went to Swansea Museum to meet with Emma Williams and Phil Treseder about Swansea’s involvement with the Saving Treasures Project and what their aims are for the future of Swansea Museum. We also interviewed collector Geoff Archer, who recently found a very rare Bronze Age mould for making axe heads.

To spend the week interviewing people who are so passionate about preserving the archaeology and heritage of South Wales for future generations, in whatever form they can, was an honour and a privilege and certainly put our journalistic interview techniques to the test.

Over the following week we were able to edit the interviews and write our articles with the overlooking expertise of Catrin Taylor and the Communications department; again linking in our journalism skills to help tell the stories of the people and objects.

A thank you from us

We’ve had a wonderful and insightful two weeks and we’ve met some incredible people during this time. The support we’ve received to create the best possible content has been outstanding and we now know what archaeology is, what an archaeologist does and what the Saving Treasures Project is!

We can’t wait to continue to work closely with the Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project and follow its success until 2019. Thank you to everyone who we have met and worked with!

@A_Dickinson_

@MonsurMedia

On a bright and breezy Saturday morning in September an enthusiastic group of children and adults gathered at the Mumbles in wellies and hi-vis jackets ready for a Big Beachcomb.

The Beachcomb was the first activity of Swansea Museum’s Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay project, which is being funded by the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project based at Amgueddfa Cymru.

Led by Paul Huckfield of the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust and Mark Lodwick of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru we set out with the retreating tide to see what treasures of Swansea’s past we could find.

Searching

The vast expanse of mud, sand, rocks and shallow pools did not look promising at first. But almost as soon as we had set off Paul was showing us the blackened and glistening remains of a prehistoric forest. Within another hour he had pointed out the sites of seven shipwrecks, old mooring points and other remains of Swansea’s maritime past.

On the surface of the shore we found hundreds of pieces of old pottery, metalwork, animal bones, glassware and pieces of clay pipe. A particularly evocative find was the base of a wine bottle, dating back to the 1600s.

The glass was thick, and so dark that you could only see its muddy green colour by holding it up to the sun. This was a high-status object - once, it would have held a decent vintage rather than plonk.

Collecting

When enough pieces had been collected in carefully labelled bags we laid them out on the slipway and sorted them into categories with the help of Paul and Mark – ceramics, glass and metalware, organic material.

Imagining

We speculated about who the objects had belonged to, when they were made, and how they ended up in Swansea Bay. Some, such as the bottle and some of the pots, were imported items – could they have been among the cargoes of one of the wrecked ships? Had the pipes been smoked by sailors and fishermen with wheezy chests? Were the bones the remains of their dinner?

Our treasures have now been taken back to Swansea Museum where they will be studied by the Young Archaeologists Club and used as inspiration for the Dylan Thomas Centre’s Young Writers Squad.

Look out for the next chapter in their history in a future blog.

The time has come to announce the winners of our creative writing competition...

The challenge was to write a short story inspired by our exhibition Treasures: Adventure in Archaeology. Our writers were inspired by the ancient Egyptian mummy on display, as well as the beautiful Dolgellau Chalice. You have until 30 October to see them for yourselves - so hurry! Grab your tickets here.

Here are our three winning entries: click on the title to download them and get reading. Congratulations to our winners and runners up!

First Prize:

The Falcon's Curse, Eleanor Thorne

Second Prize:

The Chalice of Dolgellau, Theo Singh

Third Prize:

A Mummy at Night, Amy Wintle

Thanks to everyone who sent in a story, or who called by our art and craft activities - we've loved looking at each and every one of your creative works.

‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’ is the first Community Archaeology project funded by the HLF project Saving Treasures, Telling Stories. Run by Swansea Museum, the project is inspired by a collection of finds made by a local metal detectorist on Swansea Bay, which has also been acquired for the museum by Saving Treasures.

Blades and Badges

It includes some mysterious items, such as a Bronze Age tool with a curved blade which has had archaeologists scratching their heads. Ideas about its purpose range from opening shellfish to scraping seaweed off nets or rocks or carving bowls.

Among the other items found on the Bay are a number of medieval pilgrim badges, including one brought back from the important shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Pilgrim badges are usually made of lead or pewter and were often bought at shrines as a souvenir and worn on the pilgrim’s hat or cloak.

It is thought that those found in Swansea Bay were probably thrown into the sea by pilgrims returning to south Wales by boat as a thanks offering for their safe return. It seems like a curiously pagan thing for a medieval Christian to do, but it’s similar to the modern practice of throwing coins in wells, which is itself a survival of an ancient religious ritual.

The Archaeology of the Bay

The new collection is just a tiny fraction of the objects discovered on the Bay, which has a rich and varied – as well as sensitive – archaeology. This includes fragments of Bronze Age trackways and prehistoric forests, Roman brooches, ceramics, shipwrecks and the remains of World War Two bombs.

Community Involvement

Each one has a tale to tell and together they are helping archaeologists build the story of human activity in the Bay over thousands of years. Helping to interpret the finds, their significance for the history of Swansea Bay and for the people of modern Swansea are representatives from Swansea community groups, including the Red Café youth group, the Dylan Thomas Centre’s Young Writers Squad, Community First families and the Young Archaeologists Club.

The project’s first activity, a Big Beachcomb, took place on the Bay itself on Saturday 17 September, but to find out about that you will have to wait for the next blog in this series…