Amgueddfa Blog

Happy Day of Archaeology everyone!

Today, the 28th July 2017, is the annual online event in which archaeologists from across the country blog about archaeology. The idea is to showcase the diversity of the subject and highlight what individuals are doing on and around this day.

This year we’ve badgered people from across the museum to contribute posts on who they are and how they engage with archaeology through their various research and projects and on a daily basis.

We have been amazed by the positive response, not just from within History and Archaeology but from a whole range of disciplines. The topic of posts thus ranges from prehistoric Cardiff to botany to archaeological curation to snails! It really shows how broad and varied archaeology truly is, beyond the traditional view of woolly jumpers, beards, and whips (though it has been known!)

These posts are all hosted on the external site: www.dayofarchaeology.com and links to blogs from our staff are listed below and will be added to throughout the day.

We hope you enjoy!

Adam GwiltAn Archaeological Curator’s Day

Dr. Rhianydd Biebrach The Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project

Dr. Ben RowsonSnails at Snail Cave, and elsewhere in Wales

Jonathon Howells - From Housing to History and Archaeology

Kristine Chapman - Rare Books from the National Museum Wales Library

Sarah Parsons - Photographing Archaeology

 

Blogs that will be posted later today:

Dr. Heather Pardoe – Harold Augustus Hyde’s Contribution to Welsh Archaeology

Sian Iles – Marvellous medieval tiles-public engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

Dr. Elizabeth Walker – Contemplating and communicating the Palaeolithic landscapes of Wales:

Matt Knight – A Day in the Life of an Archaeology Intern

Wales is culturally diverse from three hundred years of industrial heritage and a history of people coming here for work in mining and quarrying, dock yards, heavy industry. Lately jobs in tourism, modern industry and students coming to study at our universities make us a melting pot of cultures. Indeed, my grand-father came to Swansea from the Faroe Islands (Danish) and my wife’s grand-father came from Holland, both to work on the docks around 1910. As economic migrants – they came here to earn more money and have a better life, they were not refugees.

They stayed, married Welsh girls and raised families. The street I grew up on, Prince of Wales Road in the Hafod, Swansea there lived people from Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Poland and England, and the bottom of the street was known as ‘Jews Row’ where Jews from all over the world lived. As children we just thought this was normal and every street in the UK was just like ours.

Unsurprisingly with this background, Swansea became a ‘City of Sanctuary’ in 2010, the second one in the UK after Sheffield.

Part of my job is in the Public History Team for Amgueddfa Cymru. This means we actively seek out different groups and individuals in the community and gather their stories and history. Through my job I have met people who have been displaced from their homeland for various reasons and are seeking safety and shelter.

So, when last May (2017), I attended ‘Asylum Seeker and Refugee Awareness’ training at the Waterfront Museum as part of our staff training, I thought I was fairly clued up about the subject.

The training was delivered by a lady working for Swansea City of Sanctuary and another lady who was an asylum seeker and she told us about her personal experiences.

It’s strange, we see stuff on the TV and news and read stories in the papers and get a picture in our heads about a situation but very often is only half a story. Learning factual numbers and hearing personal testimony made me realise how far off the mark I was, how little I knew.

For instance, we were asked to rank the top ten countries of the world in order of which ones take the most refugees. As a group we managed to name one or two correctly.

The top ten are: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Congo and Chad.

Surprised? I was. The UK, Germany or France don’t make the top ten even though I was convinced they would as it seems to make headlines on a regular basis in our media. The biggest refugee camp in the world is in Kenya with around 200,000 people living in it!

We learned what the difference is between an asylum seeker and a refugee. Both are displaced persons – they have had to leave their country of origin for lots of different reasons; war, religious beliefs, persecution or sexual orientation.

An asylum seeker is a person who is fleeing persecution in their home country, has come to the UK and made themselves known to the authorities. They then exercise their legal right to apply for asylum. If they are granted asylum here then they have ‘refugee’ status.

I found out that many of these desperate people are brought to Europe and the UK by traffickers and quite often they have no idea which country they are in. Most are stripped of belongings and passports so have no way of proving who they are, their age and marital status etc. when questioned by the authorities.

After assessment and a screening interview, if the person becomes an asylum seeker they then have to wait until their case is further assessed to get refugee status or be rejected. At any time during this process people can be subject to detention, deportation or destitution. Destitution means having no recourse to public funds, having no money and nowhere to live.

Asylum seekers are dispersed all over the country and are given free accommodation in private lettings. They are not allowed to work. They receive a maximum of £36.95 a week - £5.28 a day for food, toiletries, everyday needs and travel. As asylum seekers have to regularly sign in at an immigration office which can be some distance from where they live, a day’s money can be used up in bus fares.

The application process can take years for a person to get a decision on refugee status and the onus is on the asylum seeker to prove persecution of an ongoing threat and not a one off occurrence.

For many this period in limbo can very difficult. The lady we spoke to told us to imagine you suddenly found yourself in somewhere like China and couldn’t speak the language or understand the culture. Finding your way around and doing simple tasks is almost impossible. For example, she told us her and her two young children were placed in a house in Swansea on a cold January day. The house was cold, it had central heating but she had never seen central heating controls before and didn’t know how to work it. This lady was a psychologist in her own country but her qualifications are useless in the UK. She told us that even with all these problems she felt safe here, which was all she wanted for her family.

After the process is completed and refugee status is granted, as refugees they have the right to work and apply for family reunification. From March 2017, cases can be reviewed after five years to see if the threat to the person is still ongoing or if it is possible to be returned to their country of origin.

If refugee status is not granted there are a number of avenues for appeal but ultimately if status is not granted then the person can be deported.

After listening to the trainer and hearing the stories of asylum seekers I was left with a helpless feeling inside me. Every story we heard made me think ‘what if that was me and my family?’ and how grateful we would be to find somewhere to feel safe. The biggest point I took away from the morning was: Refugees are just people like you and me who had jobs, housing, education and good standards of living, suddenly taken away from them through no fault of their own. They just need the chance to start over again without fear.

At the end of 2016 there were 2,997 asylum seekers in Wales, 0.09% of the population.

There are times in life when a problem and its solution come together seamlessly.

The problem – one which every museum faces: cryptic causes of deterioration of stored objects.

The solution: investigation using the latest chemical analyses.

One step better: to combine this analysis with the mission of museums – inspiring people – and undertake the investigative work with full public engagement.

Like most museums, National Museum Cardiff has the task of slowing down corrosion to preserve collections. Think of your family silver tarnishing and you know what I am talking about. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of metal objects in our collection and you understand the herculean task we face when we come to work every day.

Like most museums, we do not have much equipment to undertake complex chemical analyses. So when we want to investigate the magnitude of potential sources of corrosive airborne substances in our collection stores, we often work in partnership with academic institutions.

SEAHA is an initiative between three universities with industry and heritage partners to improve our understanding of heritage science. Heritage science is multi disciplinary and includes experts with chemistry, imaging, IT, engineering, architecture and other backgrounds. One of SEAHA’s amazing facilities is a fully equipped mobile laboratory. We submitted an application last year for the mobile lab to come to Cardiff which, amazingly (there is much demand for this vehicle), was approved. Last week, staff and postgraduate students from University College London, one of SEAHA’s academic partners, visited National Museum Cardiff.

The Mobile Heritage Lab was at the museum for two days. During this time, we assessed environments and pollutants in collection stores and in public galleries. We undertook this work with full involvement of our museum visitors. The mobile lab was parked next to the museum entrance where we encouraged our visitors to explore the on-board analytical equipment. UCL staff and students were at hand to explain how science helps us preserve heritage collections, for example how UV fluorescence is used to explore paintings.

We received a visit by A-level students from Fitzalan High School in Cardiff in the morning. The students were especially interested in chemistry. After a quick introduction, we gave the students an ultra-fine particle counter to produce a pollutant map of the public galleries at the museum. The students used this equipment to measure ultra-fine dust inside and outside the museum. We are still analysing these data, but the early results indicate that the museum’s air filtration system is doing a good job at keeping dust out of the building. This is important because the gases associated with ultra-fine particles (for example, SO2) can damage paper and other organic materials.

We also measured concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in collection stores and found that levels were higher inside drawers in the Entomology collection than in the store itself; this is important in the context of entomological pin corrosion. We managed to confirm that work we undertook recently to reduce the levels of VOC in the museum’s Mineralogy store had been effective and successful. In addition, we used a thermal imaging camera to check whether relatively high temperatures in a display case are caused by heating pipes in the wall behind the case, or by in-case lighting.

The Mobile Heritage Lab’s visit provided us with an opportunity to answer some important questions about the way we care for the museum’s collections. At the same time, we managed to teach students the practical applications of investigative science and analytical chemistry. Lastly, we spoke to many museum visitors about the role played by science in the preservation of heritage collections. We are extremely grateful for the fruitful partnership with SEAHA and hope to collaborate on additional projects in the near future. For example, there are some interesting questions surrounding the deposition of different types of dust which we discussed over a beer on Thursday evening. Watch this space as multi-disciplinary heritage science is becoming ever more important for answering questions of collection care and preservation. Museums are best placed to working in partnerships on important scientific questions while achieving public impact by explaining to a wider audience how science works.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter.

Every year a highly achieving school from each participating country is selected as a winning school for the Spring Bulbs for Schools Project. The Edina Trust arrange prizes for England and Scotland (and next year for Northern Ireland) and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales arrange prizes for the winning school from Wales.

This year’s winners were Tonyrefail Primary School. Their prize was a trip to St Fagans National Museum of History with a free coach and educational workshops. It was fantastic to meet the group and we had a lovely time exploring nature at St Fagans.

I met the group from the coach and escorted them through the site to Hendre Wen Barn, which is not usually open to the public and has only recently begun to be used as a facilitation space for schools. This served as our base for the day, and the group were very excited to hear about the bats and birds that make the barn their home!

To begin, I thanked the group for all their hard work on the project, and asked them about how they managed the project in their class room. I provided a brief overview of the projects findings, to highlight how their work has helped input into the long term study of the effects of climate change on the flowering dates of spring bulbs. Interesting feedback from the group included that they used a rotor to keep track of whose turn it was to collect data each week, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to take part.

Following this briefing, we split into two groups. Group A went with Hywel to the Tannery to explore the wildlife that live in the tanning pits; pools of water that have collected in pits that were once used in the process of making leather. The group were on the hunt for the variety of creatures that have made these tanning pits their home. In the process of exploring this habitat they found a number of different creatures and discussed their life-cycles and habitats. The group were also able to hold a palmate newt, which most said they had not had the opportunity to do before!

Group B went with me to the bird-hide, where we took sketches of the woodlands and used binoculars and bird-spotting sheets to see what birds we could find. We were very lucky, and saw an array of birds including a great spotted woodpecker! We were also visited by squirrels and wood mice, which we were as excited to see as we were the birds. We discussed the different species of birds, their colours, life-cycles and habitat. We also discussed how the feeding-space benefits wildlife and what we could do in our gardens or school grounds to help wildlife.

After this, the groups swapped over, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to explore the woods and the ponds. We then had lunch in the barn, and Hywel answered lots of questions about the protected species of Brown Long-eared bats that roost in the barns rafters.

After lunch we discussed habitats in more detail, and thought about the different insects that we might find in our back gardens. This discussion helped the group with the next activity, making bug-hotels to take home with them. We used recycled plant pots, straws and straw to make the bug hotels, and discussed where the best places might be to place the hotels to attract different insects. Some of the group decided they would place their hotels high up, in sunny areas to attract solitary bees and others decided they would place theirs on the ground in shaded areas to attract insects that prefer cooler conditions.

We finished with just enough time to make our way back to the coach, and were looking out for different insects while we walked the winding paths back. Hywel and I had a fantastic day, and from the smiling faces and feedback it looks like Tonyrefail Primary had a lovely time as well – thanks again Bulb Buddies!

 

Some of the feedback from Tonyrefail Primary:

‘I think this is one of my favourite trips because I have not seen most of the things I saw today and it is so interesting.’

‘I had a good time and enjoyed bird spotting and pond dipping. I liked bird spotting because it is interesting and I could learn about species that I didn’t know about before.’

‘I enjoyed this today especially because of the pond dipping and bird watching.’

‘I found it fun today. I liked the bird spotting because I saw some birds I’ve never seen before.’

‘I enjoyed holding the newt because it felt like I was holding living putty, and I also liked spotting the birds because they looked very cute.’

‘I liked it because it was my first time holding a Newt. I liked it because my bug hotel turned out great.’

‘I had fun meeting everyone and I loved making bug hotels because it was quite fun. It was fun today.’

‘I liked making bug hotels because I liked making things.’

Regular visitors might recognise Arnie the guide dog. He helped us to develop National Museum Cardiff's audio description tours, visited our Quentin Blake exhibition and even blogged about his Museum adventures! Arnie has recently retired from guiding duties and has handed his harness over to Uri, an enthusiastic young pup just out of training.

Ever the cultured canine, Arnie wanted to make sure Uri gets to sample the best of the National Museum but for a young pup the first visit can be scary. He has written so has written a few words to help Uri - and other guide dogs - take their first steps into the Museum.

Arnie's advice

"The National Museum Cardiff is a very old, impressive building that towers into the sky. It looks similar to other buildings in the area, but you'll know it because it has a big set of steps in front and a giant ball on top called the dome. The road outside is usually busy with traffic so your humans will need your help to cross. On either side of the front steps is some grass. You can 'spend' here but make sure you indicate to your humans that there's a step down to the grass. They might be safer letting you on a long lead and staying on the pavement.

You may feel overwhelmed as you stand at the bottom of the steps looking up at the building. I still get queasy. The stone ceiling looks like it's being held up by stilts (Mum calls them 'Grecian columns'), but I've been assured they're safe. The steps up to the Museum are in two flights, with brass rails zig-zagging across. You will need to guide your owner to the next rail between each flight. If you're feeling adventurous you might want to use the magic glass box that lifts you into the air instead. This is to the left of the steps, through a gate. Once inside, look out for the large silver button to the left - this opens the door.

Once you reach the top of the stairs you will need to guide your owner through the massive brass doorway. Then you will come to a set of glass doors that open automatically. They are much safer for us guide dogs than the old revolving type - less danger of getting squished! Be careful as you enter the Main Hall - your paws may slip on the marble-effect floor. You will hear lots of noises echoing and reverberating because the ceiling is so high. Guide your owner to the reception desk, which is straight ahead across the hall.

And then the best bit. You will soon be hit by a whiff of cakes and biscuits from the coffee shop to your left. Drooling is inevitable, but stay calm. This is the first of many temptations you will encounter. The Museum is full of animals you can't chase, bones you can't eat, and rocks you can't spend a penny on. Enjoy!"  

We wish Arnie the very best in his retirement and look forward to welcoming Uri and other guide dogs to the Museum. Our next Audio Description tour is on the 10th August. Cultured canines and Guide Dogs in training welcome!