Amgueddfa Blog

Volunteering project wins an award!

Sian Taylor-Jones, 16 November 2022

‘Our Museum Garden’ at National Museum Cardiff has been presented with an ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ Level 3 – Advancing award by Wales in Bloom and the RHS. 

We are delighted to receive this award in such a short time. It’s a real testament to the hard work of the volunteers, who only started working on the project in March 2022. The judges recognized our “vision to make a positive change”, which is one of the objectives we set out to achieve during this project, and also one of Amgueddfa Cymru’s main commitments.

Volunteers have been working to improve the grounds of the Museum, clearing overgrown beds and creating new habitat for wildlife. A regular group meets every Thursday morning and a smaller group from Dimensions UK support the work. If you'd like to join us to make a positive change in Cardiff, go to Current Opportunities - Become a Volunteer | Museum Wales

 

 

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

Lucy McCobb, 16 November 2022

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

What did you do during the Covid-19 lockdown?  Did you enjoy getting closer to nature and seeing new things in your local area during your daily walks?  Two of the Museum’s Honorary Research Fellows, Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir, did just that and more, when they discovered a treasure trove of new fossils near their home in mid-Wales.  Unable to travel far or access Amgueddfa Cymru facilities to further their work on ancient life, these independent researchers crowdfunded to buy microscopes that would allow them to study their new finds in detail.  The fossils belong to a variety of different animal groups, some of them rarely fossilized because they have soft bodies with no hard shells, bones or teeth.  Joe and Lucy are working with other palaeontologists from around the world to study the fossils and decipher what they can tell us about life in Wales’ seas over 460 million years ago. 

In a paper just published in the journal Nature Communications - led by Dr Stephen Pates of Cambridge University and also involving Dr Joanna Wolfe of Harvard University, Joe, Lucy and colleagues describe two highly unusual fossils from the new site.  The fossils are tiny, entirely soft-bodied animals that resemble a bizarre creature called Opabinia, which lived in Canada over 40 million years earlier.  A similar animal called Utaurora was described from rocks of a comparable age in the USA.  Whether the Welsh fossils represent true cousins that belong in the same family as the North American creatures is uncertain, but they certainly reveal that strange ‘opabiniid’- like animals lived in the seas for much longer than previously thought and had a wider geographical range.

Where are the fossils from?

The fossils were discovered in a quarry on private land not far from Llandrindod Wells (the exact location is being kept secret to protect the site).  The rocks in which the fossils were found were laid down under the sea during the Ordovician period, over 460 million years ago, a time when what is now mid Wales was covered by an ocean, with a few volcanic islands here and there.

What kind of animals were they?

The Welsh fossils resemble strange animals known as ‘opabiniids’, until now only known from much older rocks from the Cambrian period.  They lived in the sea and were soft-bodied, with a long narrow trunk which had a row of flaps along each side, thought to have been used for swimming, and pairs of stumpy triangular legs on the underside. At one end of the trunk, there was a fan-like tail. 

Their most distinctive feature was at the other end - a long proboscis sticking out the front of the head, looking a bit like the hose of a vacuum cleaner.  In contrast to the Cambrian opabiniids, the proboscis of the Welsh species bears a row of small spines.  The proboscis is thought to have been flexible, perhaps used to pick up bits of food off the seabed and to move them to the mouth, which lay behind it on the underside of the head.  Both the legs and the proboscis were ‘annulated’, meaning they were made up of lots of ring-like segments.  However, these were not truly ‘jointed’ in the way that a crab or spider’s legs are jointed.  Opabiniids are thought to share a distant ancestor with these and other modern jointed-limbed animals known as ‘arthropods’, but weren’t direct ancestors of them.

The larger of the two fossils is 13 mm long, including a 3 mm long proboscis. The smaller one is just 3 mm, with its proboscis making up just under a third of its total length.  There are some differences between the two fossils that suggest that the smaller one may be an earlier growth stage of the larger species, or it may represent a different species entirely.  In any case, both Welsh individuals were much smaller than Opabinia, whose fossils are up to 7 cm long. 

A Welsh name for a Welsh wonder!

All species, living or extinct, have a scientific name made up of two parts, a genus name and a species name.  One of the new fossil animals has been given the scientific name Mieridduryn bonniae.  The species name is after Bonnie, niece of the owners of the land where the fossil was found and fossil fan, in recognition of the family’s support and enthusiasm for the work being carried out on the fossils.  It’s fairly common for new species to be named after people linked to their discovery or who have done a lot of work on related species. The genus name is more unusual and comes from the Welsh words for bramble, mieri and snout or proboscis, duryn.  It was inspired by the small thorn-like spines that stick out along the length of the animal’s proboscis.  It is very unusual for a scientific name to be based on the Welsh language, as traditionally most are derived from Latin or Greek words.  The name Mieridduryn will stand as a lasting tribute to the fossil’s country of origin.

It was decided that the second fossil wasn’t well enough preserved to be able to name it as either belonging to the same species as the first one, or to a different species. 

What can I do if I find an unusual-looking fossil?

As these fossils show, there are still lots of exciting new things to discover in Wales.  If you find something that looks interesting and you're not sure what it is, our Museum scientists would be happy to try to identify it for you, whether it's a fossil, rock, mineral, animal or plant.  Just send us a photo (with a coin or ruler included for scale) with details of where you found it.  You can contact us via our website or on Twitter @CardiffCurator.  We also have a number of spotters’ guides on our website, which will help you identify a lot of the more common things you’re likely to come across.

 

Weather Records 2022

Penny Tomkins, 4 November 2022

Hi Bulb Buddies, 

 

hope that planting day went well and that you are enjoying documenting weather data for our investigation. 

I want to say a big thank you to you all for your hard work on planting day. Together we planted over 18 thousand bulbs across the UK! Your fantastic planting day photos show that you had a great time.  

 

Weather records started on 1 November. There is a resource on the website with more information on keeping weather records. I’ve attached this here in case you haven’t already seen it. This resource helps you to answer important questions, such as why rainfall and temperature readings are important to our investigation into the effects of climate on the flowering dates of spring bulbs.  

 

Use your Weather Chart to log the rainfall and temperature every day that you are in school. At the end of each week, log into your Spring Bulbs account on the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales website to enter your weekly readings. You can also leave comments or ask questions for me to answer in my next Blog. 

 

Let me know how you get on and remember that you can share photos via email or Twitter. 

 

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies, 

 

Professor Plant 

Celebrating St. Fagans Victorian tree heritage

Luciana Skidmore, 28 October 2022

Autumn sends us an invitation to pause and admire the beautiful trees that surround us. It lays a vibrant carpet of colourful leaves welcoming us into the woods. In this once in a year spectacle, we advise that you wear comfortable shoes, take slower steps and mindfully redirect your gaze up to the sky to contemplate our magnificent trees. 

In St. Fagans National Museum of History, you can find some of the most beautiful specimens of trees planted by the Victorians and Edwardians that shaped our beautiful gardens. 

This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’) located in the terraced gardens of the castle. This magnificent and unusual specimen was planted in 1872 under the head gardener William Lewis. This cultivar was introduced in the UK in the early 1800’s and won the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. The leaves are dark green and deeply serrated, turning golden before falling in autumn. This specimen has an impressive dark and smooth trunk with its girth measuring 3.67m in diameter. The Fern-leaved Beech is a Chimera, originated from a plant cell mutation of the Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica). An interesting fact is that occasionally some of the serrated leaves revert to the Beech leaf shape, when that happens it is advisable to remove the reverted branches as they tend to grow more vigorously than the cultivar.

Another magnificent feature that celebrates 150 years in St. Fagans is the row of London and Oriental Planes planted by William Lewis along the formal ponds overlooking the terraced gardens.  The London plane is a natural hybrid of the Oriental Plane and the American Plane. The Oriental (Platanus orientalis) and London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia) are distinguishable by their leaf shape with the Oriental Plane having more deeply lobed leaves. Many London planes were planted over 200 years ago in the squares of London, hence its common name. This tree can withstand high levels of pollution and was one of the few trees that could thrive in the soot-laden atmosphere of cities before the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956. Did you know that this resilient tree can store around 7.423 kg of Carbon at maturity? Large trees like this play an important role in improving air quality by sequestering carbon dioxide, removing air pollutants and absorbing gases that are harmful to human health.

William Lewis was also responsible for the planting of the Pine Walk in 1870. This beautiful avenue of Black Pine (Pinus nigra) and Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) guides you through the path towards the old Orchard. These tall and majestic trees enclose the space resembling the walls of a Cathedral. The bark of the Black Pine is dark grey with ridges and the needles are longer than other Pines. The Scots Pine is the only Pine native to Britain, it has shorter and compact needles and a warm red upper bark. Unfortunately, in recent years we have lost some of our Pine trees, in order to preserve this historic feature, we have planted four new Black Pines along the path. 

As we take pleasure in admiring these magnificent trees in the present, we must thank some of the far-sighted people of the past who have gifted us with this wonderful legacy. Trees make our cities a more pleasant and healthy environment. They enhance biodiversity, reduce flood risk, improve air quality, provide shade, and reduce the urban heat island effect in summer months. If you would like to leave a valuable legacy for future generations, start by planting a tree.  

If you are visiting St. Fagans gardens this autumn, follow this Tree Walk Guide written by Dr. Mary Barkham to learn more about our outstanding tree collection. 

Opening of the National Museum October 1922

Kristine Chapman, 28 October 2022

On the 28th of October we will be celebrating 100 years since Amgueddfa Cymru first opened its doors to the public. Although the Museum's official centenary was in 2007, marking the founding by Royal Charter of 1907, the journey to opening was a much slower process characterised by delays and interrupted by the enormity of a world war.

After the granting of the Charter, architects were engaged to design the new building and the Foundation Stone was laid by George V on the 26th June 1912. The original intention was to complete the building in stages, so enough funds were raised to begin work on the south portion (which included the Main Hall) of the building.

Sepia-toned photograph of King George V and Queen Mary standing under a striped canopy at the ceremony to lay the Foundation Stone. The ladies are in long pale dresses with large hats and the men are in ceremonial military dress

Laying of the Foundation Stone 26th June 1912

When war broke out in 1914, work initially continued, as photographs from 1915 show, however before long the lack of building materials (particularly steel and lead) and labourers meant that work had to be halted. When it restarted again after the end of the war, the climate was very different. Britain experienced severe unemployment and poverty, plunging the country into a depression.

Photograph of the Museum under construction covered in scaffolding and cranes

Construction of the Museum building in Cathays Park, 1915

It was against this background that, even with building work still in progress, the western portion of the Main Hall was opened to the public on the 28th October 1922. Four days earlier the hoardings around the building had been removed and although there was no formal ceremony at this point, the Museum Court of Governors attended a visit of inspection, followed by lunch at City Hall with the Lord Mayor the day before.

Photograph of the exterior of the National Museum taken from the south-west. A few trees are in the foreground and one or two people can be seen walking around the building

View of the exterior of the Museum from the south-west

During the fifteen years since its foundation the Museum had been steadily employing staff and building collections. No guidebooks were produced for the informal opening, the first guide to the collections wasn’t published until a year later, but reports and photographs published in the local papers give us an idea of what those first visitors to the Museum would have seen. 

Photograph of the inside of the Main Hall with a grand staircase in the background, large columns supporting the ceiling and sculptures of figures dotted about

View of the Main Hall looking towards the western staircase

The Main Hall housed large sculptures such as The Kiss by Auguste Rodin and St John the Baptist by William Goscombe John. From the Main Hall visitors could enter the Glanely Gallery (now known as the Clore Discovery Gallery) to view geology collections, particularly rocks and minerals found in Wales. While in the square gallery across the opposite side of the Hall were the Zoology collections, occupying a space they still hold now, although the displays have been updated since those early days! 

A photograph of eight taxidermy stoats with various seasonal coats ranging from bright white to dark and standing on a model of rocks

Stoat display from the Zoology Gallery

Upstairs in the Pyke Thompson Gallery (now known as Gallery 18) the focal points were watercolour drawings once belonging to James Pyke Thompson and a collection of Welsh ceramics donated in 1918 by Wilfred de Winton. Across the bridge in the square gallery, oil paintings from the Menelaus Bequest were displayed.

Photograph of the interior of the Pyke Thompson Gallery, framed pictures line the walls and a glass cabinet of Welsh China stands in the centre of the room

The Pyke Thompson Gallery in 1925

The Archaeology Department did not have a gallery of their own at the time of the 1922 opening, as it would form part of the building still undergoing construction. But, a year later objects from the Archaeology collections were displayed in the Main Hall and on the balconies, before moving to a more permanent space in the first-floor front gallery (which is now occupied by the Welsh Ceramics collection). By 1925 they had also installed the Welsh Bygones galleries, with reconstructions of a Welsh kitchen and a Welsh bedroom, in a gallery at the back of the Main Hall and the Botany collections occupied the south-east front gallery on the ground floor (the area which is now the Welsh Herbarium).

Photograph of the interior of the Archaeology Gallery; there are four large glass cabinets containing Roman pottery standing in the centre of the room

The Archaeology Gallery in 1925

The layout of the Museum remained this way until the construction of the East Wing in the 1930s prompted a large-scale rearrangement of the galleries. Further alterations were made throughout the rest of the 20th century as the West Wing was constructed in the 1960s and then the Centre Block galleries were added in the early 1990s.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of Amgueddfa Cymru, keep an eye out for more blogs and articles appearing on our website over the coming months.