Cymraeg

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…

 

What’s it all about?

Archaeological collections in museums across Wales are being given a boost over the next few years by the project Saving Treasures, Telling Stories.

Focusing on items discovered by metal detectorists, its key aims include collecting and collections development, training and community engagement with local heritage and archaeology.

Saving Treasures

Hundreds of items discovered by metal detectorists are reported to PAS Cymru every year, allowing them to be recorded and made publicly accessible via https://finds.org.uk/.

In 2015, 37 of these were declared Treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/24/contents, many of which were acquired for local museums by Saving Treasures, on behalf of the people of Wales.

Over the next three years the project will build on this progress, hoping to foster strategic collecting by museums as well as responsible discovering and reporting by metal detectorists.

It will provide training to museum professionals and volunteers to equip them with the skills and knowledge to best collect, interpret and display their treasures.

Telling Stories

Saving Treasures is not just about museums. It’s also about people, especially those who live in the communities where the treasures have been discovered.

In order to reach out to non-traditional museum audiences the project is funding up to six Community Archaeology projects, which will be run by local museums working with community groups to help interpret their collections and bring them closer to their collective pasts.

The first Community Archaeology project, called the ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’, is run by Swansea Museum and inspired by a fantastic collection of finds made by a local metal detectorist on Swansea Bay.

Each item has a tale to tell and together they are helping archaeologists build the story of human activity in the Bay over thousands of years.

Saving Treasures is a partnership between Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, the Welsh Museums Federation and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru), and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Keep an eye out for the next blog in what will be a continuous series of updates throughout the life of the project, to find out more about the mysterious Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay…

Treasures: Adventure in Archaeology has several amazing Welsh finds on display like the Cwm Nant Col Hoard, the Dolgellau Chalice and Paten and the Sully Hoard.  These objects are only a small part of the collection that the National Museum Wales holds.       

Capel Garmon Firedog

In the Iron Age, the hearth was the centre of the home.  Many hearths of high status families would have been decorated with large iron stands called firedogs.  They were often highly designed, most likely to reflect the status of its owner.  In 1852, a firedog was discovered near Llanrwst, Conwy.  Each end was topped off with what looked like a mythical animal, a combination of ox and horse.  Analysis of the object shows that it was made up of 85 different pieces and would have taken several years to construct.  When it was discovered, it had been buried in a boggy area and was in one piece, which led archaeologists to believe that it may have been buried as a ritual offering to the gods.  It was not uncommon for people to put offerings into lakes or bury them in boglands during this period.  

Capel Garmon Fire Dog

 

Langstone Tankard

While people of the past left many objects behind, they don't always survive for us to rediscover.  This is especially true for objects made out of organic material like wood.  However, if the conditions are just right, usually buried in a water-logged and oxygen-free environment, objects can survive.  That’s the case for a handful of wooden tankards dating back to the Late Iron Age or Early Roman Period.  By examining these objects, we are given clues to their use and greater insight to the society who made them.  The Langstone Tankard held about four pints.  It’s unlikely that was a single serving so the tankard may have been passed around, perhaps during a ritual.  One of the most interesting things about the tankard is that it was made out of yew wood.  Yew wood is toxic and, with enough exposure, fatal and according to Roman writings from this time period the toxicity was well known.  However, as with several other plants, in small doses it has been linked to medicinal uses.  It could be that the tankard was used with those medicinal uses in mind.

Langstone tankard

Caergwrle Bowl

One of the most impressive objects has to be the Caergwrle Bowl.  Dating back to the Bronze Age and about 3,200 years old, the bowl is made up of shale, tin and gold.  This was the same time period when the Trojan War was being fought in modern-day Turkey.  It was found in 1823 when workmen were digging drainage ditches at Caergwrle Castle in Denbighshire.  The bowl was in pieces but has since been restored.  Designs were carved into the bowl and then the gold was added.  It is thought that the bowl itself was made to represent a boat and the wave pattern on the bottom certainly furthers that.  There are also shields and oars and even a pair of oculus.  If you have ever seen a drawing of an Ancient Greek or Roman boat (especially the triremes) you will have seen that most of them are decorated with oculi, which were thought to ward off bad luck.  While the Bronze Age people of Britain would have used boats for trading, there has not been a lot of evidence found.  

Caergwrle Bowl

      

Paviland Cave

During the height of the last Ice Age (22,000 to 10,000 BC) the majority of the British Isles were covered by glaciers but we do find evidence of human activity in a few places.  The caves that line the shore of the Gower Peninsula have provided information on some of the earliest people to arrive to Wales.  In 1823, the Red Lady of Paviland was discovered.  This burial was accompanied by beads, tools and rings and the bones were stained with red ochre.  The analysis showed that the Red Lady was in fact a male in his mid-twenties who died around 27,000 BC making it one of the oldest formal burials in Western Europe. 

Illustration of the Red Lady of Paviland burial