Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

....... quite literally in some cases!

Last week saw us head up to Berwick-upon-Tweed to sample for species of marine bristle worms, the shovelhead worms (Annelida: Magelonidae). The aim was to collect enough of these burrowing animals from under the muddy sand at low tide that we could contribute to our collections and additionally place some in our laboratory tank for live observations.

After closely examining one species of shovelhead worm at the museum (Magelona alleni) for the majority of the first seven months of my professional training year (PTY) from Cardiff University, and successfully finding out some exciting new behavioural traits (in press), I find myself wanting to expand not only my own knowledge, but becoming eager to contribute more to our overall understanding of these fascinating and somewhat enigmatic creatures. The more science we uncover, the more well known these species, who perhaps do not receive the same attention as some of the bigger vertebrates, become. I see this as a crucial factor to raise awareness for a preservation of the natural world in our future.

With this mantra circling around my head, my enthusiasm was bursting as we drove to the beach on our first day of sampling. Low tide was just before 8am, meaning leaving our cottage, full gear in tow, at around 6.30am. No problems, I thought. I’m ready for that chilly Northern January air. Bring. It. on. Assembled with so many layers that we lost count, we clambered out of the car ready to get onto the beach, undeterred by the eerie super moon and snow battering our windscreen as we drove to our destination that morning. We were looking for two species of Magelona in particular, Magelona johnstoni and Magelona mirabilis, known to occur in abundance in this location, where George Johnston first describer of the the latter species lived and collected worms (you can learn more about the fascinating life of George Johnston and what he accomplished at these sites: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Johnston_(naturalist), http://www.raysociety.org.uk/userfiles/File/Johnston%20essay.pdf).

Our first dig looked promising, revealing many of the now familiar milky white, almost stringy, teeny tiny strands of magelonids. As we gently prised them out of the sand and put them into test tubes, by using seawater to gently wash the surrounding sand away in our hands, it occurred to me my hands were starting to go a little bit numb in the icy water. I thought I obviously wasn’t quite as seasoned at this as Kate, my museum mentor. Luckily we had hand warmers at the ready to dive our hands into after each dig. However, as we dug more and more both of us felt our hands turn to popsicles, and let me tell you, anyone who has ever tried to get a worm that is only a few millimeters in length into a test tube does not want popsicle hands. Over the next few hours our feet slowly turned into matching ice cubes, until we had to call it a day. Luckily for us, we had the same scenario to play out all over again the next morning.

 What I haven’t mentioned yet is that despite the somewhat crisp weather, we saw some of the most breathtaking sunrises, with only the odd oystercatcher and redshank to accompany us. Along with this, we were further rewarded by the pure amount of magelonids present in such small spaces, meaning our collection was plentiful and we could take the animals back to our make-shift laboratory at our accommodation for identification, which is when you really start to see what the fuss is about with these worms. The stringy white appearance you see from afar turns into an elegant, ethereal-like animal under the microscope, with complex morphological features. Perhaps, most notably, long, flowing palps that arise near to the animal’s mouth. The number we collected means observations in the laboratory can now be started for new research. George Johnston’s description of the abundance of the animals here sure hasn’t changed much in well over 100 years. Ultimately, the moral of the story is that sometimes, the more changeling the environment, the more recompense. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be worm hunting in the Artic!

Catch up with some other tails of a PTY student

Swansea has a whole host of treasures just lying within its midst, from the Red Lady of Paviland to the 4200 year old flint dagger that formed the basis for Saving Treasures; Telling Stories first Community Archaeology project, ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’. With the rip roaring tides, miles of beaches and hidden caves waiting to be discovered, you’d expect the sea (for which the city is named) to occasionally stir up something significant; but what about an unassuming Welsh livestock farm? Doesn’t sound like the setting for a major archaeological discovery, does it? Suprisingly, that’s exactly where local man, Geoff Archer, picked up one half of a Middle Bronze Age copper-alloy palstave axe mould dating somewhere between 1400-1200 BC.

It was over two decades ago when Geoff first picked up a metal detector, having first taken it up as a hobby after he got married. But it wasn’t until he retired last year that he was able to really get out into the field, and armed with a pair of wellies and a brand spanking new detector, he decided to venture to one of his old jaunts – a farm not far from his home.

“Over the last few nights I’d been thinking about going to the farm and something was telling me to go to the right hand side of it, just to walk the fields,” he explains, “so that’s what I did.” After traipsing around in the mud for a few hours, Geoff stumbled upon a patch of uneven terrace he couldn’t help but investigate.

Unearthing History

“I got to the lumpy, bumpy parts, had a couple of signals – nothing much.” But then Geoff had another signal, “a cracking signal” and realised it was time to dig around in the dirt to find out what it was. Figuring it would just be another case of random odds and sods, or a coke bottle lid (they find an abundance of litter!) he was surprised to hear a clunk.

“I hit this bloomin’ great big stone, so I dug around it, lifted up a clod of earth” and underneath yet another stone he noticed something interesting inside the muddy cave, something not made of rock. “What the heck’s that?” he thought, picking up the oddity with care. 

“I pulled it out and on the back end of the mould there’s, like, ribs.” This prompted Geoff to recall a discovery he made about 15 years ago, when he wasn’t so rehearsed in Bronze Age metalwork.

“Going back, must be about 15 years ago, I found an item - I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t experienced enough then. So this item, I took it home and I put it in the garage, as most detectorists do!” He had a feeling it was important but wasn’t sure why.

After a few years of picking the item up off his work bench and trying to decipher its meaning, Geoff decided to take it up to the kitchen and do some research. “So I started buying books to research Roman, believe it or not, alright? So, I bought this book and I was looking through it. I got to the part for the Stone Age, read that. Then I got to the Bronze Age, and I turned a couple of pages and there was the item I’d found! Bronze Age Axe Head. My jaw just dropped, right? And the Bronze Age Axe Head had ribs on the outside.”

Devastatingly, Geoff has misplaced the axe head, which he is now, more than ever, desperate to locate – and even more upsetting still, it’s the same type of axe as the mould he discovered 15 years later would have been built to make. “It’s what they call a loop, I think it’s got two loops on this one, each side, where they used to put, if you can imagine, the Bronze Age axe head. It’s flat, but this part at the back, its round and they put it over the wood and then they loop it, they tie it onto the wood to secure it.”

Monumental findings

When Geoff uncovered the mould, he immediately realised its importance thanks to his previous finding – but he still wasn’t entirely certain of what it was he’d discovered. “On the inside of the mould, there’s like a round piece, like in the middle part. I honestly thought at that time that it was a bit off a tractor, because it was so… the engineering of it, the precision engineering of it! But in the back of my mind I was thinking it can’t be off a tractor because it’s got these ribs at the back from this Bronze Age axe that I found.”

After digging out some modelling clay and experimenting, he came to the realisation that what he’d found was an axe head mould. Geoff phoned up one of his buddies at Swansea Metal Detectorist Club for a second opinion and after a positive diagnosis by them both, he took it along to a club meeting.

“As it so happened, it was our ‘Find of the Month’ meeting!” Geoff explains. “So I won find of the month for the artefact and Steve, our Finds Liaison Officer, said ‘you’d better show this to someone in Cardiff because they are going to be interested.’ So, photographs were sent to Cardiff [National Museum of Wales] and they wanted to see it. I went with Steve to Cardiff and the mould’s been there ever since!”

Mark Lodwick, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Cymru Co-Ordinator at The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff confirmed Geoff’s identification and has recorded the item so it can be used in further research and study.

Under the Treasure Act, the mould isn’t classed as ‘treasure’, so why is it so special? “It’s the only one that’s been found in South West Wales,” Geoff enthuses, “and it’s the second one that’s been found in Wales. The other one was found in a hoard of axes in Bangor in the 1950’s, so this is the first one that’s been found since then!”

Preserving the past

Geoff is in utter disbelief that he was the one to stumble across the important artefact, which has been conserved at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, but, eventually he’d like it to end up back home at Swansea Museum.

Having reported the axe mould to the museum, Geoff sees this as an important part of his role as a treasure hunter. Letting other people view the item, he says, “gives other people a chance to understand about their locality, of what’s been going on.”

“I think it opens up a new chapter in [Swansea’s history]. There’s a bit of history regarding the Bronze Age but to find something like an axe making product in Swansea, which has never been found before - it opens up a new chapter of where these people were living and how far were they living on the fields of that farm,” explains Geoff. “That’s my quest now I suppose, is to try and find out – keep walking the fields and I might find the other half, I don’t know.”

With hopes of the axe mould ending up in Swansea Museum, Geoff is keen that people will be interested in viewing his remarkable find. “The more publicity it gets the better!” he says. “The more people who know about this the better as far as I am concerned, because it’s the first one to be found in South West Wales and the second one to ever be found in Wales – so don’t tell me that’s not important.”

To discover more about Swansea’s Bronze Age history and see some fascinating Neolithic archaeological artefacts visit Swansea Museum, entry is free!

Words: Alice Pattillo

Following Wrexham Museum’s recent acquisition of the Bronington Hoard, a collection of 15th century gold and silver coins and a gold and sapphire ring found by local metal detectorists, the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project helped fund the Buried in the Borderlands Community Archaeology Project.

The project, which goes on display in March, focuses on working with and inspiring the local community to investigate and produce creative responses to the historic objects discovered right under their noses.

David and Jill Burton are part of the Maelor heritage society set up by the museum, a group of volunteers who research and help to exhibit the Bronington findings. We caught up with them to talk about the project.

Why were you drawn to the project?

We have enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the “Buried in the Borderlands" project as volunteers with the Wrexham Museum team. Initially it was curiosity that took us along to the community meeting in the local pub to find out about more about the hoard that had been discovered in a field not far from where we live. This was followed up with meetings at the museum and the exciting chance to examine at close quarters the coins and ring that had been discovered. 

The hoard consists of 52 coins and a gold ring with a sapphire stone, all buried in approximately 1465. The hoard has been dated to a period of history we knew little about, the Wars of the Roses and we were intrigued what effect the conflict had had on our local area. 

What does your voluntary work involve?

Our “homework" between meetings was the opportunity to research into settlement and ways of life in the Maelor area 550 years ago and the politics of the time. Out limited knowledge of old coins, their designs and production, was helped by attending an excellent Numismatics Day at Wrexham Museum with the chance to listen to top quality speakers from the Royal Mint and the Fitzwilliam Museum amongst others.

What’s your favourite aspect of being involved with “Buried in the Borderlands”?

We enjoyed using the information we had discovered to put together a brief for designers of the popup information boards which would accompany displays and were delighted to see the resulting ideas come to fruition.

But I think our favourite part of the project was helping museum staff take a sample of the hoard and the completed information boards “on tour”, to three venues in the area where the hoard had been discovered, a community centre, a school hall and a heritage centre. At all three places we were met with interest and enthusiasm by visitors of all ages.

We loved having the time to chat, to explain and to listen to theories on why our visitors thought the hoard had been buried. We met 387 people on these days, some were local historians, some metal detectorists, some local residents and farmers but we especially enjoyed talking to the children who loved seeing “real treasure” and had the most imaginative theories as to its origins.

What does the future hold for the project?

We look forward to the next stage in the New Year when we can help with ideas for the designs for the permanent exhibition of the Bronington Hoard in Wrexham Museum, and of course the grand opening when for the first time we will see our local hoard all displayed together for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.

Interested in getting involved? Contact Wrexham Museum directly to find out more.

Don’t know what to get the children for Christmas this year? How about a little inspiration from the museum collections. Some of these items are going to be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History in the autumn of 2018.

Miniature toy sewing machine

Accession No: F82.51.63

Got any budding sewers in your family? This lovely little sewing machine belonged to Margaret Eckley of Sully who played with it as a child in the 1930s. It is hand operated and decorated with an image of Little Red Riding Hood. It comes with an instruction manual too.

 

Set of toy soldiers

Accession No: 56.313.134 – 154

You could try the classic set of toy soldiers? These came from Brecon. Did they march all the way? They were donated to the museum in the 1950s and probably belonged to the donor’s children, who were born in the 1890s.

 

Corgi Toy Tractor

Accession No: F00.27.9

You could try the ever popular Corgi toy range. This tractor was played with in Cardiff in the 1950s – 1960s.

 

Welsh Costume Doll

Accession No: 30.316

This doll dressed in traditional Welsh costume was played with in the middle of the 19th century. She must have been a treasured item, she was in the donor’s family for eighty years. To see more Welsh costume dolls visit the People’s Collection Wales website.

 

Lego Christmas set

Accession No: 2000.194/1

Would Christmas be complete without Lego? Here’s Father Christmas with his sleigh made in the Lego factory in Wrexham.

These objects are not on display at the moment, but you’ll soon be able to see them on our website along with many of our Art, Archaeology, Industrial and Social & Cultural History collections. Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery for support with this ongoing work.

If there is a specific object you want to see at any of our museums, check that it’s on display first, and if it’s not, you can always make an appointment to view it.

People's Postcode Lottery Logo

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.