Amgueddfa Blog: Learning

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.

As palaeontology curators, we have the privilege of working with the Museum’s vast fossil collections.  From trilobites to tree ferns, ammonites to mammoths, corals to dinosaurs, they are individually fascinating and beautiful.  Collectively, they are the evidence that allows us to chronicle life on Earth going back over 500 million years.  When faced with such prehistoric riches on a daily basis, it is easy to take fossils for granted.  In reality, each and every fossil in the Museum is one of the lucky ones.  Most of the countless animals and plants that have ever lived on this planet did not become fossils.  Many things can happen to prevent something becoming a fossil – it can be eaten, torn apart by scavengers, rotted away or cooked by the Earth’s hot core.  Fossilization is a rare event, which requires the chance coming together of a series of circumstances and conditions.  When you realise this, you cannot look at a fossil without feeling wonder and awe that it exists at all.

In the Palaeontology section of the Natural Sciences Department we decided to develop an activity which would allow people to explore how and when fossilization happens.  With the support of a Geological Society grant, we produced a board game called ‘Fossilization Frenzy’, which we launched at our ‘Biology and Geology Rock!’ event, held to celebrate Earth Science Week and National Biology Week in October 2016.  The game invites people to choose one of four animals that lived in the Jurassic seas, around 200 million years ago, and the aim is to see if their animal can become fossilized and end up on display in the Museum. 

Visit our Learning resource page to download the Fossilization Frenzy game

Given the unlikelihood of fossilization, there are many trials and tribulations along the way, and the chances of winning are not as high as with most board games.  There were also valuable lessons to be learnt in choosing your animal wisely – if you choose the insubstantial jellyfish, then the odds are going to be stacked against you.  We found that the game generated a healthy level of competition between classmates and family members of all ages, and many participants played several times until they succeeded in making it into that coveted fossil display case. 

Following the enthusiastic response to the game from family groups at the ‘Biology and Geology Rock!’ event, we delivered it to school groups at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in May 2017, as part of the Palaeontological Association’s outreach programme.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that ‘Fossilization Frenzy!’ was as well received by teenagers on Secondary Schools Day as it was by younger children on Primary Schools Day.  There were many more enthusiastic players across the weekend when the festival was open to the public, including several adults unaccompanied by children.  Clearly the desire to become immortalised in stone crosses age and generational boundaries!  The game has since been successfully delivered to primary school groups and general public at the Yorkshire Fossil Festival in Scarborough (September 2017).  It was also trialled by our Learning team at the Association of Science Educators Conference, and the Welsh language version was used as part of our outreach work on the Jurassic Earth Timescale Project in North Wales (October 2017).

After receiving several requests for the board game from teachers we have now available for download as a pdf file.  The game is available in Welsh language, English language and bilingual versions.  Follow this link to find out more about the learning aims of the game and to access the downloadable pdfs.

Play Fossilization Frenzy now

Lucy McCobb, Caroline Buttler, Trevor Bailey and Cindy Howells

4,830 pupils from across the UK are to be awarded Super Scientist certificates on behalf of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, in recognition for their contribution to the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation.

A big congratulations to you all! Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording, you really are Super Scientists! Each one of you will receive a Super Scientist certificate and pencil, these will be sent to your school by the end of May.

Many thanks to The Edina Trust for funding this project.

Super Scientist Winners 2018

Schools to be awarded certificates:

To receive Super Scientist certificates and pencils.

Schools with special recognition:

To be awarded certificates, pencils and sunflower seeds.

Highly commended schools:

To be awarded certificates, pencils, sunflower seeds and surprise seeds.

Runners-up:

To be awarded certificates, pencils, a variety of seeds and gift vouchers.

Winners 2018:

Each will receive certificates, pencils, seeds and a prize for the class!