Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


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.

‘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, to carving bowls.

Amongst 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 thank 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 Archaeologist Club.

The project’s first activity, a Big Beachcomb, took place on the bay itself on Saturday 17th 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 Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project.

Focussing 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

In 2015 37 of these were declared treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act, 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 (FED) 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…

Before starting my degree in English Literature and History at Cardiff University in September 2015, I was conscious that employers look for experience as well as qualifications, especially in senior management roles in the heritage sector. Knowing this, I wanted to get some volunteering under my belt to enable me to get a head start in museum work and the heritage sector after I graduate; the Events Volunteer Work Placement at St Fagan’s National History Museum seemed the perfect opportunity to do this.

Over the past year, our role as the placement team was to come up with a way of recruiting volunteers for specific events, and we trialled our scheme at the St Fagan’s Food Festival on the 10th and 11th September 2016, to much success. We were also given experience working on the front of house with other museum employees, which was a great insight into how museums are run, and how important visitor relations are. Another placement volunteer and I also designed a tote bag for use by the events volunteers; the museum staff were so impressed that they hinted at working with us on something similar in the future, an opportunity that would not have existed without the work placement.

Doing the work placement has been hugely beneficial to me; I now have experience in both behind the scenes and on the face of the museums events and day to day running, and I have learnt how many different aspects and people it takes to pull off a big event like the Food Festival. Every team member is valued, down to every last volunteer. It has also taught me transferable skills such as teamwork, time management, and customer service.

One major advantage of the work placement is that it has opened many doors for me; having now volunteered for the National Museum Wales, I have gained an excellent contact and reference within the volunteer department. I am planning on continuing volunteering with the museum once the work placement is finished, and that is made a lot easier by my past experience on the placement.

We met in the museum’s car park, not quite knowing what to expect.  Our 50+ Group had been asked if we fancied cataloguing more than a thousand books from the library at the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute as part of the re-interpretation of the building and all four of us had been intrigued by the request.

Sioned greeted us with a warm welcome and we were taken to the library in the ‘new’ building to meet Richard, the librarian.  And so began five extremely enjoyable Thursdays.

The books had been packed into boxes and our task was to fill the spreadsheets with name, author and publication date.  We noted the condition of the book and if it had come from another library or institute (eg. Nantymoel or Aberkenfig).

Delving into each box, not knowing what we might discover was like plunging into a box of chocolates.   Mining and engineering books were obviously very popular in Lewis Merthyr Library – were they borrowed by young men keen to further their careers?  There were many books on mathematics, science and architecture – all well-used according to the date stamps on page three.  And then there were novels by popular authors like Jane Austen, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens – read and enjoyed in a time before television and computers.  A few books, with risqué titles, were obviously well-thumbed and our work stopped as we contemplated why they appeared to be more popular than ‘Advanced Algebra’ or ‘Modern Mechanics’.

It was a fascinating insight into a random selection of books, some dating back to the 1870s, and we are so grateful to the Museum for including us in this work.  Richard was on hand to answer questions and solve mysteries – why did so many Welsh preachers write books about themselves?  Who bought them?  And who decided to write ‘The Life of the White Ant’ (and did anyone ever read it)?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our five days ‘work’, have learnt new skills, met lovely people and, also, become better acquainted after visiting all of the eateries in the museum for lunch.  If there’s any more volunteering on offer – please put our names on this list.