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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 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 (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.

My name is Arnie. I am an eight and a half year old Labrador retriever cross and I am a dog with a job. I am a guide to my human, the one called ‘Mum’.

We have been partners for seven years and she has very poor vision. Although she can see colour and shape, she has no depth vision and lives in a blurry world. My role is to keep her safe, stopping her from bumping into things and causing chaos.

This has been particularly important on our trips to one of our favourite places, National Museum Cardiff. Mum loves art and history, and we have been invited to help develop their audio tours for visually impaired people like Mum.

My role during these tours hasn’t just been to keep Mum safe but also to protect the priceless antiquities, beautiful paintings and fragile exhibits from the awkward accident-prone one!

During these audio tours the museum guides describe in detail, to visually impaired visitors, their surroundings and interesting objects around them.

They also had sighted guides to help guide visually impaired people round the museum safely. Sighted guides are humans that do what I do: indicate steps, avoid objects and keep the visually impaired person safe. I think this makes a lot of sense because if they are anything like Mum they may need a little supervising.

One of the tours took us through the Evolution of Wales galleries. Our guide explained that each time the floor surface changed, it represented a movement forward in time in the story of the Earth. I took my time and stopped and tapped Mum's knee with my nose, so she knew to lift her feet and be aware of the changes in the surfaces.

I worked hard to ignore the giant bones, hanging in shapes of strange creatures, all over the place. I am sure they would have been very tasty, but I was in harness and at work!

The only part I was greatly concerned by was the terrible giant hairy creature that made a noise and moved, I tried to walk straight past and guide Mum safely out, but everyone stopped and stood to listen to one of the human guides talk about woolly mammoths and changing landscapes….? I had my eye firmly fixed on a quick exit!

Arnie Guide Dog

PS If other Guide Dogs want to take their owners on a pawsome Museum adventure, you can book a place on their audio description tours by phoning (029) 2057 3240. Woofing great!

My artistic practice is multi-disciplinary and includes film, performance, design and engagement with communities. Using an investigative approach my work responds to journeys and geographical locations. Previous projects have included, an odyssey across Wales (Cerbyd), the life, death and afterlife of an elephant in Swansea and a hunt for the Beast of Bala.

From November 2015 to April 2016 I was chosen as artist in residence at Parc le Breos, Neolithic chambered tomb. During the residency I used engagement activities and film making to explore how the exposure and freedom to explore the Parc le Breos site through a host-guest scenario could give agency to the individuals involved.

Focusing on the themes of shelter, survival, hunting and rituals, I arranged a programme of regular activity for Community First groups to work with myself and local practitioners in the area sharing their expertise. Partners included Dryad, Forest Schools, Gower Unearthed and Guerrilla Archaeology who created experiences including shelter building, fire making and story telling. Over 1000 people took part in the project, many of whom had never visited Parc le Breos and the Gower before.

Amgueddfa Cymru provided a vital resource throughout - this included visiting the Museum stores with Jody Deacon, Curator: Prehistoric Archaeology (Collections and Access) to film material relating to Neolithic sites in Wales.

I was also given access to the taxidermy, scenes, models and soundtrack from the Natural History displays. This was particularly special for me; as a Cardiff boy I remember the mammoth from my school visits to the museum. The opportunity for me to return to this remarkable beast was not only nostalgic but added a sinister dimension to the project by questioning the unharmonious co-existence of the neolithic period, my own childhood memories and the present day.

A range of academics and specialists have given their time for audio interviews to be used within the film of the project including Professor Alasdair Whittle, Research Professor in Archaeology, Dr Jacqui Mulville, Reader in BioArchaeology and Roy Church, Manager of the Gower Heritage Centre. Audio was also gathered from story telling developed with the English and Maths Group based at Phoenix Centre in Townhill.

Since April I have been editing together footage and audio for my film The Chambered Cairn. The film itself opens up a variety of possibilities, suggesting that not everything is as it seems and highlighting the inevitability of change. It also hints at the hidden or unknown aspects of human development. For example, for approximately 2 million years prior to the advent of agriculture, gatherer-hunters enjoyed excellent health, social and sexual equality, very light workloads, plenty of leisure time and freedom from any form of government. The Chambered Cairn explores our evolution and migration to the British Isles and the impact of human development from hunter gathers to agriculture and domestication.

The launch of film will be on Saturday 17 September between 12.00 – 3.30pm at Gower Heritage Centre. The film will be screened in La Charrette, a 23 seated cinema, built by Gwyn Phillips, an electrician who fell in love with the movies in his youth while working as a projectionist, and began showing films in 1953 in his back garden in Gorseinon.

All are welcome.

The Chambered Cairn
La Charrette, Gower Heritage Centre
Sat 17 Sept 12-3.30pm

This project was funded and supported by Cadw, The Gower Landscape Partnership, Arts Council for Wales, Welsh Government, Heritage Lottery Fund, National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, City and County of Swansea, Cardiff University’s Guerrilla Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru and Gower Heritage Centre.