Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


The Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales organised the sixth Unknown Wales for the 8th October. The day to celebrate Welsh wildlife was funded by a generous donation from a museum patron. This year, Dr Richard Bevins, head of the Natural Sciences Department, welcomed a record 240 members of the public to the Reardon Smith lecture theatre at National Museum Cardiff. Attendees came from across South and Mid-Wales as well as from over the Channel in Bristol.

We had overwhelming feedback this time - 88 people have responded. A third of respondents were new to the event, but many people return every year:

“As usual superb presentations by passionate presenters, many thanks”

“Gwych unwaith eto – dw i’n dod pob blwyddyn, diolch!"

We always aim for a broad range of natural history topics delivered in an accessible way:

“A really enjoyable day and very well pitched at all generations and interests”

“John Archer-Thomson – very engaging speaker, made a potentially dry subject [limpets] interesting and informative. Lovely films of Pine Martens.”

A-level and University students felt the topics were relevant to their studies.

“The enthusiasm of the speakers for their subjects, the beautiful location and applying real ecological issues to my studies (I am a student at Cardiff Uni studying biology)”

“Fungi and colliery spoils were especially interesting and the limpets talk gave information that’s very helpful for A-level biology”

Our special guest was Prof. Mike Benton from Bristol University. He spoke about how the discovery of Wales’s newest dinosaur, Dracoraptor hanigani, tells us more about the origins of the dinosaurs.

“Good to see Palaeontology within context of contemporary talk…Fab.”

People have given us many suggestions for topics for next time; “foraging”, “bats” or “urban greening” are just some of the ideas that could be appearing in the future.

We sacrificed question and answer time to enable speakers to finish their talks. However, feedback showed many people missed the interactive aspect. There was some chance for people to talk to speakers informally alongside the displays in the Oriel Suite at lunch, but we acknowledge this is not a substitute for audience participation at the time of the talks.

The Storify article shows how people followed the event live on the day via social media:

For first time we have created a display using the museum collections to link into topics covered at the event. We have just incorporated some of the feedback we received into it. The display is at the top for the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff and runs until 30th October 2016.



This week’s Youth Forum again made me think about museums and what they can do, and how they should be, in a different way.

While looking at art from the First World War had at times been a sensory overload, this time we were trying to understand what it would be like to come to a museum without one specific sense fully intact. How to make museum exhibits more accessible for the partially sighted?

Having always gone to museums with my sight in (near enough) tip top condition, I and probably others tended to presume it was a pretty necessary requirement. If I had trouble seeing the paintings/sculptures/artefacts, then I don’t think I’d want to go. Because if seeing is believing, and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to be learning about, then surely I wouldn’t learn very much and would end up feeling quite left out, even though this obviously shouldn’t be the case.

And it doesn’t have to be! The paintings and sculptures that we looked up were a bit of a mix, ones that more well-known and some that were completely new. Among the ideas that we came up with, for example, involved the painting Bad News, by James Tissot, incorporating the playing of military marching music alongside the painting to evoke the solemnity and sorrow of leaving your family to go off and fight in another corner of the world.

Similarly, for Entrance to Cardiff Docks by Lionel Walden, lighting effects could imitate the lights of the port and the surrounding buildings, with sound effects of ships coming into port, water slapping against the quay, sailors shouting to each other. We could have smells to add to the experience (although maybe not the fish!). Instead of rough sailors accompanying Manet’s San Maggiore by Twilight, it would be the gentle, joyful peel of Italian church bells.

In front of a painting of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Thomas Apperly and Edward Hamilton by Pompeo Batoni there could be a table with the objects and chairs laid out exactly as they are in the picture, as if the subjects had just finished the sitting and left only a few moments ago. David Nash’s intriguing sculpture Multi-Cut Column could have smaller imitations made of it, that people could actually pass around and touch, something rarely allowed in any exhibit. 

I realise there would be some technical issues in making sure it wasn’t distracting or taking away from the other exhibits, and that maybe not all these ideas will actually become a finished product, but I hope that at least some of them do work out. Because who wouldn’t want to experience this? It might be a bit like theatre, the art being brought to life, stepping into the painting. While I’m definitely thankful I’m not visually impaired in any way, I’m also thankful I took the time to try and understand the experience of those who are. 

  • Our next Audio Description Tour will take place on the 8th of December will be of our Natural History Collections.

Display for Unknown Wales at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd / National Museum Cardiff

The Unknown Wales event is this Saturday 8 October 2016 – now in its 6th year. People are invited to National Museum Cardiff’s Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre to listen to talks celebrating Welsh wildlife. For the first time, we have created a small display in the Museum’s galleries to complement these talks.

Our Natural Science curators chose the specimens on display from the millions available in the Museum’s collections. The collections are diverse, including pressed plants, fossils, taxidermy animals, fluid-preserved worms, pinned insects, and more. Look out for the Unknown Wales display case at the top of the restaurant stairs in National Museum Cardiff.

At Unknown Wales this year, eight speakers will tell us about their research into garden birds, Pine Martens, limpets, fungi, coal tip invertebrates, and the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly. Finally, we are pleased to welcome Professor Mike Benton who will bring last year’s big discovery, the new Welsh Dinosaur, back to life for us. Listen back to the BBC Wales Science Cafe preview of the event:

Book a place at the Unknown Wales day this Saturday 8 October, 10am - 4pm (free entry):


Here's a round-up of what happened at Unknown Wales 2015.


One of the many challenges curatorial departments face, especially within the Natural Sciences, is making specimens that are stored in our collections accessible to the wider public in a form where they can get a real sense of the what these specimens actually look and feel like. There is no real substitute to having specimens on display in the galleries and being able to see the texture, shape and scale at first hand, but this not always possible as gallary space is limited and only a tiny proportion of the 3 million specimens we hold in our natural sciences collections can ever be out on display at any one time.   

The museum is undertaking a large scale project to make our collections visible online in terms of collection data and images, but an exciting technique is now allowing us to produce and display 3D models of our specimens in fantastic detail, which is probably the closest you can get to having the specimen in front of you.

3D Scanning has been around for sometime now. Back in 2012, the department of Geology (now part of the department of Natural Sciences) was a lead partner in a JISC funded project to digitise all Type fossils held in the UK. Many of our type fossils were scanned in 3D during this project and are avalible to view on the website ( However, the technology for 3D scanning has moved on rapidly in the time since, and we are fortunate to now have the one of the the most up-to-date 3D scanners available at present - the Artec Spider HD. Our new scanner allows us the capture detail beyond the level we could previously achieve, and in much less time.

The museum now has a presence on the popular 3D model web platfom SketchFab, which is host to thousands of models produced by the public as well as other museums and gallaries across the world. Making the 3D models we produce available on the is platform allows us to promote our collections to a large audience who although may already be engaged in 3D modelling, may not necessarily be engaging with museums.

Dracoraptor hangani by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales on Sketchfab

By no means would we expect to create models of our entire collections (the time and resources required would be huge!) but scanning some of our more scientifically important or, perhaps, charismatic specimens allows us to get parts of our collections out there for the public to engage with in a new way.

We are still learning the capabilities (and limitations) of our new scanner, and discovering which specimens and objects are best suited for scanning, but over the coming months more models will be added to the museum sketchfab site and will begin to be integrated into our own online collection websites.  

During past decades changes in land use over large areas have resulted in a significant loss of natural grasslands and meadow flowers, and thus food resources and habitats for insects. The number of pollinator species has declined dramatically and this poses a threat to the pollination of commercial crops.

The Welsh Government’s Action Plan for Pollinators has resulted in a number of initiatives by local authorities and projects by charitable organisations to promote actions for increasing the areas that can sustain meadow habitats. In many places, including public parks and road verges, wild flower areas have been established to improve local environmental quality and provide suitable habitats for pollinators. This would hopefully lead to an increase in biodiversity in Wales, with more diverse plant and animal communities.

To support these initiatives and efforts by local authorities the Department of Natural Sciences of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales offers workshops utilising its collections and knowledge. The Botany Section held a meadow plants identification workshop for Torfaen County Borough Council staff. The day began with an introduction to meadow plants, meadow ecology and pollination. This was followed by a hands-on session looking at flowers commonly found in meadows with the aid of microscopes. The workshop was lively and interesting and catered for a range of botanical experience.

To help identification we provided an information pack for over 60 meadow plant species. It contains descriptions and illustrations of species and information about their ecology and distribution in the British Isles.

The workshop ended with a visit to New Grove Meadows in Monmouthshire which are owned and managed by the Gwent Wildlife Trust, and which are very good examples of local, well-established and species rich wildflower meadows.

Amgueddfa Cymru’s sites support diverse Welsh habitats, which include wildflower meadows. Recently, we have transformed a corner of our most urban site, Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd-National Museum Cardiff, into a meadow and a place wildlife can thrive. This Urban Meadow and City Bees project aims to draw attention to the need for green spaces for pollinators in urban areas. The meadow is not only a good source of nectar and pollen for the bees occupying the three beehives on the Museum roof, but is also an outside learning area to inspire new meadow advocates.