Amgueddfa Blog: Archaeology

What’s it all about?

‘Buried in the Borderlands’ is a brilliant Community Archaeology Project at Wrexham Museum, funded by the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project.

It’s based on the recent acquisition of a hoard of 15th century gold and silver coins and a gold and sapphire ring, known as the Bronington Hoard, found by local metal detectorists.

The project is working with the local community, inspiring creative responses to the material heritage on their doorstep, which will go on display in March 2018.

This post introduces two museum volunteers who have been working on the project.

Leon and Tom’s story

Hello everyone, we’re Leon and Tom. We’ve been working recently on the very exciting Buried in the Borderlands project with Wrexham Museums and Archives.

The two of us are currently studying AS Levels at The Maelor School, Penley. I (Leon) am studying Biology, Chemistry and Maths whilst Tom is studying Politics, English Literature and Psychology.

But we have one subject in common, that’s History!

We’ve both always loved history, from learning about the World Wars, to the history of Wrexham county. That’s why we are thrilled to be volunteering with the Bronington Hoard.

We get to learn about the history of the Maelor, complete our Community Challenge for the Welsh Baccalaureate, and work with all our Friends at Wrexham Museum. Win, win, win.

We’ll keep you up-to-date with our progress as part of our Blog every 1 to 2 weeks.

We look forward to your feedback and hope you’re as ecstatic as we are for the arrival of the Bronington Hoard in March 2018. 

 

Stori Leon a Tom

Helo bawb, Leon a Tom ydym ni. Rydym ni wedi bod yn gweithio ar brosiect cyffrous Yn Gudd yn y Gororau yn ddiweddar gydag Amgueddfa ac Archifau Wrecsam.

Mae’r ddau ohonom ni’n astudio Lefel AS yn Ysgol Maelor ar hyn o bryd. Rydw i (Leon) yn astudio Bywydeg, Cemeg a Mathemateg tra bod Tom yn astudio Gwleidyddiaeth, Llenyddiaeth Saesneg a Seicoleg.

Ond mae gennym un pwnc yn gyffredin, sef Hanes!

Mae’r ddau ohonom ni yn mwynhau hanes, o ddysgu am y ddau Ryfel Byd, i hanes bwrdeistref Wrecsam. Dyna pam ein bod wrth ein boddau yn gwirfoddoli gyda Chelc Is-y-Coed.

Rydym ni’n cael dysgu am hanes Maelor, cwblhau Her y Gymuned ar gyfer Bagloriaeth Cymru, a gweithio gyda’n ffrindiau yn Amgueddfa Wrecsam. Mae pawb ar eu hennill.

Fe fyddwn ni’n eich diweddaru gyda’n cynnydd yn rhan o’n Blog bob 1 i 2 wythnos.

Edrychwn ymlaen at glywed eich adborth a gobeithio eich bod chi'r un mor hapus â ni y bydd Celc Is-y-Coed yn cyrraedd ym mis Mawrth 2018. 

Forget Raindrops on roses, you can keep your whiskers on kittens…

With such varied collections that we have in the museum I can’t help noticing some fabulous objects.

Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have had funding so we can enhance records and add images for you to view in Collections Online, soon you’ll be able to search the museum catalogue and discover your own favourite things.

These are a few of my favourites:

Image in chalk pastel on paper of Welsh rugby player scoring a try against the All Blacks

The Try that Beat the All Blacks by Frank Gillett (1874 – 1927)

What a fabulous picture this is! (I may be a little biased). This picture shows the first ever test match between the Wales and New Zealand rugby teams in 1905. Wales won 3 – 0 (a try was only worth 3 points in those days rather than 5 points as it is now).

Seated figurine of a mouse holding a disc

Roman copper alloy figurine of a mouse

This lovely little mouse (only 3cm high) was found in Loughor, or Leucarum as the Romans knew it. Is it nibbling some cheese, or has it found a biscuit somewhere?

Locomotive painted bright yellow and black

Electric locomotive

It might look like something from Thunderbirds, but this is an electric locomotive used in Glamorgan Haematite Iron Ore Mine (Llanharry Iron Ore Mine) from the 1960s. These locomotives replaced the use of horses for haulage in the mine.

Section of blue damask fabric with intricate silver thread embroidery

Close up of court mantua fabric

This shows detail of a dress from the 1720s. This is a very grand court dress (known as a mantua) which would have been worn for presentation at court by Lady Rachel Morgan the wife of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar House. Just look at the incredibly detailed embroidered silver thread on silk damask. The best thing about it I think, is that it was altered during the 19th century by one of Lady Rachel’s descendants, probably to wear as fancy dress! The dress will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History in the autumn of 2018.

Jug with a cut out trellis-like design of circles and lozenges at the top, with a ring around neck from which protrude three bulbous spouts.

Puzzle jug made by the Cambrian Pottery c. 1800

What’s the puzzle about this puzzle jug? Try and pour from it, and you’ll end up with beer all over the place. To find out how these were made, and importantly, how you’d use it, check out this video by the V&A museum.

If you want to see more of the collections you can explore online or come and visit one of our museums. Not all of our items are on display, so before you make a special trip to see something specific, check that it’s on display first.

People's Postcode Lottery Logo

The photography department at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales looks after images for all of the seven museum sites including the Archaeology department. That means taking new photographs of archaeological objects, and scanning historical photographs (e.g. prints and slides).

Here’s an example of how both are used.

Segontium Roman Fort, Caernarfon

These photos from the 1920s show the excavations at Segontium led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the then Keeper of Archaeology and later Director of National Museum Wales. They were scanned from glass plates. Here’s a few of the 102 images from this collection:

Black and white photograph of excavations

Cellar in the Headquarters building (praetorium)

Black and white photograph of excavations

Headquarters building (praetorium) during excavations in the 1920s

Black and white photograph of group of people visiting excavations

Sir Mortimer Wheeler (left) showing visiting dignitaries around the site including Lady Lloyd George (front right)

The photographs may be of use to modern archaeologists interpreting the site, but personally I like spotting the shadow of the photographer and his tripod (we’ve all managed to do that haven’t we?) and checking out those fabulous 1920s hats!

Here’s where modern photography comes in. The following images were taken recently of objects from the 1920s excavations.

Roman flagon

Flagon found at Segontium, but produced in Oxfordshire will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History

Stone alter with latin inscription

The Goddess of war must have protected someone in their time of need, in return he vowed to dedicate an altar to her which was found in the strong room of the Headquarters building. It reads: To the goddess Minerva Aurelius Sabinianus, actarius, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

The images are digitally archived so that they’re accessible for use in exhibitions, publications, presentations and online.

 

Some of the finds from Segontium will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History opening in 2018.

You can see more historic photographs here.

Learn more about Segontium Roman Fort on Amgueddfa Cymru’s website or on the Cadw website.

With support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we’re working hard getting our collections online so you can search our object database and see information and images of the collections for yourself.

People's Postcode Lottery Logo

Vibrant discussions are a usual part of the Saving Treasures project and the Amgueddfa Cymru archaeology department.

But I’m not sure we’ve ever had one about a spoon before.

In 2015, a Medieval silver spoon was brought into National Museum Wales; it was found while metal-detecting around Pembroke and can be dated to about the 15th century. The spoon has a rough engraved cross on the underside of the bowl and is in two pieces.

The handle, or stem, has been bent and twisted round, while the bowl has been folded in half and then in half again.

The question bugging us is: why?

Why deform this spoon so greatly?

The deliberate destruction and deformation of objects is not unknown in the Medieval period, though presently we can’t find any parallels for this object.

Many silver coins were, however, damaged for various reasons.

Folding a coin in half, for instance, had a ritualistic function; it was often performed as part of a vow to a saint to cure an affliction or ailment. The coin would then be taken and placed at a shrine. However, Portable Antiquities Scheme data shows that many appear to have been lost or buried in seemingly random locations.

So, we wondered, could the spoon have served a similar function?

Medieval silver spoons were often considered intimate possessions that were carried around much of the time. Dr. Mark Redknap at Amgueddfa Cymru has suggested the engraved cross may represent an ecclesiastical ownership mark. The deliberate destruction of a personal item may have held some significance to the owner, much as a prized possession would today.

Another explanation is that this represents material intended for the crucible, to be remelted and recast into another object. The breaking and recycling of objects is well-known since the Bronze Age. Viking hacksilver involved silver objects chopped and broken either for recasting purposes or as a form of currency, exchanging fragments based on weight.

Fragments of silver spoons are in fact known from hacksilver hoards from Gaulcross, Scotland, and Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

Of course, the Pembroke spoon was buried nearly a 1000 years later than the hacksilver hoards so it cannot strictly be compared. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to think the spoon was broken, folded and twisted into small, compact pieces that would fit more comfortably within a crucible.

We might not find many broken spoons because they were remelted into other objects. The weight of the spoon would comfortably produce other common Medieval objects, such as finger rings, mounts, and pendants.

We will probably never know the reason behind the destruction of this spoon. But it’s always nice to speculate.

 

Notes and Acknowledgements

The spoon was recently declared Treasure following the Treasure Act 1996 and will be acquired by Milford Haven Museum through the Saving Treasures: Telling Stories project. The full record for the object can be found here: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/860650

My sincere thanks must go to everyone who engaged with our call for ideas on what this object represents on Twitter. In particular, I’d like to thank Sue Brunning for directing my attention to the hacksilver hoards mentioned in-text.

The Bronze Age is full of different types of objects.

The discovery of metal about 3500 years ago meant new objects could be made or redesigned.

One such object is the axe. For thousands of years people across the world had been making axes out of stone. Bronze Age axeheads were then made out of metal in different shapes and sizes.

By the Late Bronze Age (1100-800 BC), axes were made with sockets, which allowed for the insertion of a wooden haft/handle. Often they had loops to secure the haft with binding, such as leather strips.

In South Wales, a specific form of axe seems to have been very popular and has been named the ‘South Wales axe’.

These axes have thick, flat socket mouths and a loop on one side. They are often heavy and poorly made. There are three raised ‘ribs’ on both faces of the axe. These are sometimes parallel and sometimes converging.

Hundreds of these axes have been found buried in Wales, either on their own or in large hoards of objects. Sometimes they are complete and sometimes they are broken; the reasons for this are uncertain.

An example has recently been found in the Trevithen Hoard, Torfaen, and is currently on display at Pontypool Museum.

South Wales axes have also been found across England, and as far away as northern France.

This implies these products were traded and exchanged over long distances.

The function of these axes is unclear. These axes may have been left in a rough condition because they were used in agricultural activities, such as cutting roots and breaking plough soil.

Whatever the reason they appear to have formed an important part of the Late Bronze Age in South Wales. As more are discovered, archaeologists will continue to gain insights into these objects.