Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

 

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Looking across Swansea Bay on a chilly spring morning and seeing that the tide was out came with a sigh of relief as this meant we didn’t have to wait an hour or so to get started with our beachcomb.

I joined Swansea Museum on The Mumbles side of the Bay to take part in one of their community projects that aims to engage local communities with their pasts. On this occasion the museum teamed up with the Llanrhidian Women’s Institute and the Gurnos Men’s Community First group to take part in a beachcomb led by archaeologist Paul Huckfield, from the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust.

All wrapped up in extra layers we were ready to begin our trek across the swamp-like beach, luckily most of us received the wellies memo and they were definitely needed.

Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.
Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.

Paul wanted to create a sense of what the landscape would have been like during the Bronze Age and took us to areas on the beach where some of the landscape remained fairly similar and unchanged.

We’re standing on the actual ground surface as it would have been in the Bronze Age. You can see the peat levels just here show what would have been around in the Bronze Age; you can see that this is black in colour from the trees and bits of foliage. So you’re actually standing in the past at around 4,000 years ago.”

Travelling through time across the bay allowed us to think of what life would have been like 4,000 years ago, what is now a beach would have been a woodland and shrubbery area surrounded with fresh water pools.

Paul talks about some of the reason why the landscape changed and during what periods. You can watch the clip HERE:

Bringing us through time to the 19th and 20th century we were then led to some of the remaining shipwrecks found on Swansea Bay. On the Mumbles side of the bay alone we could spot around 14 shipwrecks and vessels. Vessel remains are still on the bay and these would have been used to protect the area from submarine attacks during the Second World War.

Paul said: “The whole beach is covered in metal uprights and wire to stop enemy gliders coming onto the beach.”

Another shipwreck was part of an oyster fleet. We learnt that the bay was a natural resource for oysters and they were a major food source, some dating back to Roman times, however this source was destroyed during the industrial period.

After having a look around the beach and learning how it has changed through time with different inhabitants we were then given clear bags and told to try and find our own items.

We found a variety of items during the beachcomb from ceramics, beer bottles from London, fossils and different types of slate and stone. The items found today along with others from previous beachcombs with Swansea Museum will be kept and made into a mosaic for public viewing in the future.

Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.
Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.
Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.
Beachcombing on Swansea bay with Llanrhidian Women's Institute and the Gurnos Men's Community First group.

 

Swansea Museum are currently working on a project called ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’, which is funded by the help of the ‘Saving Treasures; Telling Stories’ project and you can read about the last walk I attended with them HERE. Saving Treasures is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is acquiring archaeological objects for local and national collections and providing training for heritage professionals and volunteers.

By Ieuan Donovan, Work Placement Student

I’m currently studying for an MSc in Wildlife and Conservation Management at the University of South Wales and as part of this course opted to undertake a Work Based Learning Project within the Estates Department at St Fagans. Throughout my time on the work placement I have been able to take part in a number of jobs from clearing deadwood and brash, to hedge laying and delivering firewood to the historical buildings around the site. The variety of roles I’ve been able to do has meant that I’ve had a good time working at the museum. I’ve also enjoyed being able to partake in practical jobs away from an office and away from assignments. Although a welcome break from desk based work it’s been a great way of incorporating theoretical knowledge with practical application and implementation of specific management plans. The work placement has also opened up an avenue for me to pursue my dissertation research project using the museum grounds.