Amgueddfa Blog

To celebrate #SportMW we have been looking at the plants and animals (both living and fossil) in our galleries and collections that perform sporting feats everyday just to stay alive.


Sprinters of the animal world could run rings around Usain Bolt. The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the fastest land mammal, able to reach speeds of around 100 kph (62 mph) but only in short bursts. Their bodies are well adapted for this with a long tail for balance and semi-retractable claws for grip.

Master of the sprint in the skies however is the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). Speeds recorded for this species vary hugely, it is listed in the 2011 Guinness World Records as achieving up to 350 kph (217 mph) during its stoop (swooping dive)! This incredible speed gives it a great advantage when catching its prey (mainly birds) in flight.

Finally, lets not forget the little guys; in 1991 the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana) broke a world record to become the fastest land insect, achieving a speed of 5.4 kph (3.4 mph). Research since then suggests that Australian Tiger Beetles would also be contenders for the title, having been reported to travel at speeds of over 6.5 kph (4 mph)!


Cone snails are carnivorous marine snails (Conus spp.). These predators use ‘harpoon-like’ darts to inject venom, immobilizing prey such as fish, marine worms or other shells. Whilst the venom of some species is akin to that of a bee sting, others are extremely dangerous to humans, occasionally even fatal!


A gold medal would have to go to the Dung Beetle (Onthophagus taurus), which, in 2010, was named the world’s strongest insect with estimates suggesting it could move 1,141 times its own body weight. Many of the larger beetles although not as strong may move objects up to 50 times their weight.

If we are talking about weight in general, lets not forget the amazing plant kingdom for producing some whoppers. A species of pine (Pinus coulteri) native to California produces the largest cones in the world. Weighing up to 5 kg, you wouldn’t want these landing on your head, unsurprisingly, it is known as The Widow-maker in California! Or how about the Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica)? This strange looking seed from a palm tree from the Seychelles holds three records - the largest fruit (up to 50 cm long), heaviest mature seed (17.6 kg) and the largest flowers of any palm.


The animal kingdom contains some of the true masters of aerial gymnastics. Eastern Colobus Monkeys (Colobus guereza) spend much of their time high up in the forest canopy, and are natural gymnasts. They are able to make long leaps, moving from tree to tree with great agility.

Hummingbirds have the fastest wing-beat of any bird. An amazing 200 beats per second has been recorded for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). This allows them to hover and even fly backwards whilst foraging for nectar from flowers.


From looking at fossilized dinosaur footprints we know that some species of dinosaur were fast and agile. Large theropods like T. rex could outrun a professional footballer (running up to 29 kph /18 mph), but smaller, lighter dinosaurs would have been even faster. Shift over Ronaldo!


26 miles seems like a long way for our poor legs, but what about the vast distances some animals cover? The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) undertakes one of the world’s longest migrations. They migrate from tropical wintering grounds to summer feeding grounds near the poles, travelling over 5,000 miles a year.

The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) travels huge distances, crossing oceans like the Atlantic, to get from feeding to breeding grounds. This is the largest of all living turtle species; our museum specimen (found washed up in Harlech in 1988) is the largest ever recorded, weighing in at a huge 914 kg!

And finally the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) has the largest wingspan of any living bird, at approximately 3.5 m. As their name suggests they wander a long way and can fly over 10,000 km (about 6,000 miles) on a single feeding trip!


Like the sails of a ship, plants are true experts at harnessing the wind to help disperse seeds. The wings on the seeds of Field Maple (Acer campestre) help them to catch the wind, and fly like a helicopter. This means they grow further away from the parent tree and don’t compete with it for light and nutrients. The Javan Cucumber (Alsomitra macrocarpa) produces one of the largest winged seeds in the world with a wingspan of 13 cm helping them to fly just like a glider.

Martial Arts

Plants and animals sure can pack a punch, be it Taekwondo, Judo or Boxing style. Although naturally shy, if the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) is cornered they are likely to kick out using their extremely powerful legs. This has led to them being given the title of most dangerous bird! Their powerful legs enable them to sprint at 50 kph (31 mph) and also jump up to 1.5 m.

But its not just the big animals, Bloodworms (Glycera spp.) are marine bristle worms related to earthworms and leeches. They have a long feeding tube (proboscis) that can be half the length of their bodies, and can be extended at great speed! Take that Bruce Lee! They are ambush predators, capturing small shrimp-like crustaceans with the sharp jaws at the proboscis tip.

Finally, the infamous Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This really strong plant can break through concrete and has even been known to grow through the floors of houses. Originally from Japan, it is now common in Britain, especially by rivers.

Long Jump/Triple Jump/Mountain biking

Snow Leopards (Panthera uncia) are fast animals, able to make great leaps over rocky terrain when in pursuit of prey. Records suggest that they can leap as far as 14 metres, ambushing prey from above!


From the sprint to synchronized swimming, the natural world is full of swimmers of all abilities. Ichthyosaurs were prehistoric reptiles, shaped like dolphins, which lived in the seas when the dinosaurs were on the land. Their streamlined bodies meant that they could swim up to 40 kph (25 mph).

The Big Mouth Shark (Carcharocles megalodon) swam in our waters 23 to 2.6 million years ago. It was an excellent swimmer and voracious predator and wins the medal for most formidable carnivore to have existed. It was a giant ancestor of the Great White Shark, and grew to 16 m or more in length. It had one of the strongest bites known, 5 times the force of Tyrannosaurus rex’s bite and 10 times the force of the Great White Shark. Eek!


Defence is massively important in the natural world, be it to protect your young, impress a partner, or stop you from being eaten! Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were stronger and more heavily built than modern elephants. Their tusks were much bigger too, reaching up to 5 m in length. Mammoths probably used their huge tusks for clearing away ice and snow to find food, to fight with each other, fight off predators, and for display.

The impressive Giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) became extinct after the last ice age and equals the Moose as the largest deer that ever lived. The largest males could have antlers 4 m across, the biggest of any known deer.

You can find amazing feats of daring, skill and grace everywhere in the world around you. Take up a pair of binoculars and check out the peregrines by Cardiff City Hall Clock Tower, or head to Pembrokeshire to see porpoises swimming, or even just check out the fascinating plants and bugs in your back garden. And when you’ve done that, you can come to the museum and try and spot some of the animals and plants from the above in the galleries.



People have been hoarding objects for thousands of years.

People still do it today, but its origins lie in prehistory. This was very common in the Bronze Age (around 3000 years ago) when people collected items, such as weapons and tools, and buried them in pits and ditches. 

Hoards may contain only three or four objects, or up to fifty or more. The largest Bronze Age hoard currently known in Britain contains over 6500 objects! Many hoards have been found in Wales recently and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. This greatly adds to our understanding of prehistoric Wales.

Most recently, the Trevethin hoard from Torfaen has caught media attention, containing three axes and two spearheads. Other hoards have recently been found in the Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, and Monmouthshire.

Buried objects include swords, spears, axes, and ingots of raw metal. Sometimes these objects were buried complete and pristine, while others were deliberately broken, burnt and bent before being put in the ground.

Many questions surround this practice.

Why were so many objects buried?

Why were some objects broken, while others were left intact?

Were hoards for religious purposes (e.g. as an offering)? Or did they act as stores of raw material that were lost?

It’s unlikely we will ever truly know the answers to these questions, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, archaeologists can speculate based on how and where the hoard was buried and by comparing it to known historical periods in which hoarding was also practiced.

For instance, many hoards in Roman and Medieval times were deposited for safe keeping, during times of unrest. Meanwhile, objects deposited on hilltops or in rivers may have been symbolic markers within the landscape.

We can also think about what people do with objects today.

Some people collect objects for a hobby, such as stamps, coins, or shot glasses. Sometimes it’s for a specific purpose, such as preserving heritage – museums are an excellent example of this.

Similarly, items might be destroyed or discarded for a variety of reasons, such as eliminating a memory, commemorating the death of a friend or family, or simply as waste. Of course we can’t forget that sometimes objects might simply be lost.

Whatever the reason, hoarding formed an important tradition in Bronze Age Wales. With every new discovery, archaeologists get one step closer to understanding prehistoric ideas and values.

The Trevethin hoard is one of several hoards that was responsibly reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. It is now proudly on display at Pontypool Museum where it can be enjoyed by all members of the public. It was acquired with funding from the Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project. More details on how the hoard was investigated, as well as a conversation with the finder, Gareth Wileman, can be found here.

Perhaps not the most stupid in the world, but I must be a contender for most ridiculous job title in the museum!

When friends ask “So how’s the new job?” telling them that I’m a Collections Online Metadata Assistant doesn’t really help explain what I do (neither does mentioning that it could be abbreviated to COMA!).

This is a brand new role for the museum funded by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery. 

“Er…it’s glorified data entry” doesn’t really help either. It’s true that I sit at a computer looking at spreadsheets and databases most of the time, I move data from one field to another and some days my eyes feel like they’re turning square from staring at the screen. But every now and then I’m reminded what this is all about.

What, to me are lists of numbers that don’t behave themselves and don’t fit in the correct column of a spreadsheet actually represent objects and images of our amazing and diverse collections.

So every now and then up pops an image of a world famous painting such as Rain, Auvers by Van Gough.

Rain, Auvers by Van Gough

Rain, Auvers by Van Gough

Or it could be an old photo of people who used to live in the terrace of iron workers’ houses now at St Fagans National Museum of History. Looking closely you can see a few of the children couldn’t sit still for the camera!

Photograph of group portrait

All of Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales’s objects are catalogued on a database so that we can keep track of what we’ve got and where it is.

My job is to match up objects on the database with images and information about them (that’s the Metadata bit), so that they can be viewed by yourselves on Collections Online (which will be up and running in the near future).

This will be the first time ever that you will be able to search the database for yourself. You will see exactly what the curators see when looking up information about our objects. So if you want to know exactly how many motorbikes we have in the collections, you’ll soon be able to see for yourself.

We have a lot of work to do to tidy up our records, to make them presentable, but we’re working on that…back to the data entry then!

People's Postcode Lottery Logo


 The numbers of specimens in geological collections in the UK alone reach into the tens of millions. These collections are important for research, education and also commercially. Museums hold collections, but so do individuals and companies; exploration companies keep rock core samples which can be as valuable as £1,000 per meter.

There is now sufficient evidence to dispel the myth that geological collections are inherently stable and require fewer resources to preserve them than other areas of museum collections. In fact, a proportion of geological collections demand a level of attention and maintenance comparable with archaeological metal collections. This includes similar environmental and pollution-related considerations.

About 10% of known mineral species are sensitive to changes in temperature or humidity, or may react with air pollutants. One such mineral is pyrite – common in geological collections and one that is particularly troublesome. However, despite centuries of research on pyrite decay there is a dearth of knowledge in subjects that would help museums improve the effectiveness of their care of geological collections. This includes the categorisation of damage to specimens, methodologies for objective routine condition assessment, the definition of an adequate storage environment, and successful conservation treatments.

Currently available methodologies are not suitable for routine collection monitoring, results are not necessarily replicable, and, in the absence of guidance on suitable storage conditions, triggers and the suitability of conservation actions are difficult to determine. We need a more robust approach to the delivery of preventive conservation of geological collections.

We have now teamed up with the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA) at University College London, University of Oxford and University of Brighton to investigate these aspects of preservation of geological collections. A four-year studentship has been advertised which will be based at Oxford University but spend a considerable amount of time working at National Museum Cardiff. If you are interested in this subject, and have a background in, ideally, geology, chemistry or engineering, please do get in touch.

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


Archaeologists have made a significant Bronze Age discovery in the Torfaen area of south Wales, which will help people to understand communities living in Torfaen around 3,000 years ago.

A Bronze Age hoard was discovered by local metal detectorist, Gareth Wileman, in November 2014 while metal-detecting in the area of Trevethin, Torfaen. The hoard consists of five Bronze Age artefacts, including three socketed axes and two spearheads; this discovery was subsequently declared as treasure in 2016 by H.M. Coroner for Gwent.

The Bronze Age artefacts, which date back 3,000 years, were the first of their kind to be displayed in Pontypool Museum after being presented as part of the Torfaen Treasure Day on Friday, 7 April 2017.

The Rt. Hon Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen, President of the Torfaen Museum Trust, opened the event, followed by guest speakers from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and local MP, Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds.

The Bronze Age hoard has sparked media interest and you can read articles from the BBC, ITV and South Wales Argus to name a few.

We sent our journalism students who were on a two week work placement with the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project to Pontypool Museum to interview the finder; Gareth, and find out how he feels about his discovery.

This is Gareth Wileman, he is a metal detectorist who found Bronze Age treasure in Torfaen

Metal detectorist talking about his Bronze Age treasure discovery

He said:

“I’m glad they’re being displayed somewhere smaller like Pontypool, especially as it provides new information on what life could have been like here thousands of years ago. Everyone knows about the mining times and that’s what Pontypool is known for, the Big Pit.

“Obviously this will now show that 3,000 years ago there was more happening up here than what people thought, and I think now Pontypool could be known for having Bronze Age artefacts and an older history.”

Gareth started metal detecting after coming across a YouTube video, he said:

“I had done a bit of metal detecting when I was a lot younger. I had found small cheap things like 20 pence when I used to do it in the garden.

“I started reading more about metal detecting and metal detectors. Then I went and bought one and started going out with it.”

His first find was a 1927 silver Florian coin, which inspired him to pursue his hobby. One aspect Gareth was keen to encourage was the need to report your findings as soon as possible to the museum or your closest Finds Liaison Officer. He wants others who take up metal-detecting to let the museum know if they find something as it could have historical importance.

“Anything you find then you should just let the museum know otherwise it could end up anywhere. The worst thing about it is when people find stuff that others would love to see, but it ends up being sold or put into a private collection.

“Not necessarily everything is interesting, but it’s good to know that it has been found and where it was found and then museums can take it from there.”


“The Trevethin hoard is a significant Bronze Age discovery in this area of Wales, where little was previously known. The quick reporting to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales by Gareth enabled us to carefully excavate the find-spot and ensured that we can now better understand these communities living in the Torfaen area 3,000 years ago.” -Mark Lodwick Co-ordinator of the Portable Antiquities Scheme for Wales (PAS Cymru)


The hoard is being acquired by Pontypool Museum with grant funding from the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project. This project, funded via the Collecting Cultures programme of the Heritage Lottery Fund, is acquiring archaeological objects discovered by members of the public for public museum collections across Wales. The project is also encouraging communities to engage with their pasts and portable archaeological heritage, by funding a programme of community archaeology projects led by staff in museums throughout Wales.