Amgueddfa Blog

The medieval court, Llys Llywelyn, has finally opened its doors. The hall transports us back to a day in the 13th century when Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd is in residence and about to hold court. The recreated sumptuous decoration, furnishing and ornament reflects both his wealth and status, most of the portable items travelled with him as he progressed around his kingdom so were only present when the prince was in residence.

One way to reflect your wealth and status in the medieval period was through the use of colour. There were a wide range of artist's pigments available from which paint could be make, some were natural minerals like the bright red vermilion and others where man-made such as Verdigris, a green-blue colour created by suspending copper plates over vinegar or the waste from the wine making process.

Our mission, along with the painters from the Historic Buildings Unit and volunteers from our Preventive Conservation Group, was to recreate the painted interior of the 13th century court. All was to be authentic including the pigments and paint medium we used. The wooden columns and arches were still drying out so whatever we applied had to be breathable, but also robust enough to cope with the thousands of visitors we welcome each year.

Paint is made up of two elements, a coloured pigment and a glue referred to as the paint medium. There were a variety of traditional mediums we could use such as gelatin, extracted by boiling up scraps of parchment made from the skin of sheep, calves or goat. Other options included egg and also casein derived from milk.

As you can see the options available were very 'organic' and certainly not familiar. Our only guides were the few remaining texts on the subject and analytical evidence from surviving paintwork.

Which paint mediums did we choose in the end?

Egg was an option, but it would have taken an awfully large number of eggs and been a bit smelly while the egg off-gassed sulphur during the paint setting process!  We therefore started to trial gelatin in combination with the white pigment calcium carbonate for the background and red ochre pigment for the chevrons. This proved very successful for the white background but less so for the red chevrons. The next option was casein, this produced a much more robust finish and therefore was chosen in combination with the red ochre pigment for the chevrons.

One thing we learnt during this process was that our work had to be slow and methodical, traditional materials can't be rushed. We developed a huge respect for the medieval painter and the skill required when using these tricky materials to create decoration or works of art.

Finally I wish to thank all our volunteers for their help to deliver this project. We could not have done it without them and yes we spent a lot of time watching paint dry, praying it wouldn't flake off!

"If you asked me what a magelonid was 18 months ago, I would have looked at you with a somewhat muddled expression. Let me tell you, a lot has changed since then. Roll onto the present day, after a year at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for my Professional Training Year (as part of my Zoology degree at Cardiff University), I could talk for as long as you are willing to listen about this fascinating family of marine bristle worms, commonly known as the shovel-head worms (Annelida: Magelonidae)."

            When my application was first approved from the Natural Sciences Department at the museum, I didn’t know what to expect. I had always loved anything marine and knew from the start this is the area I wanted to build a career around. This was a very broad declaration and beyond this, I was rather diffident in what I wanted to pursue. Therefore, my number one priority was to keep an open mind and make the most of everything the experience would offer. This view shaped a year filled with opportunities, that has not only been indispensable in developing my scientific skills in both hands on research and writing, but also in giving me a direction I am interested in for the future. 

            The majority of the placement involved both behavioural and taxonomic studies on European magelonid species, through the practicing of methods such as time-lapse photography, live observation, scanning electron microscopy, high definition photography using a macroscope, and taxonomic drawings using a camera lucida attached to a microscope. As a result of this work, some very interesting findings were highlighted for the Magelonidae, with important implications for furthering our understanding of these enigmatic animals. Perhaps the most fascinating arose through extensive time-lapse photography and observing animals in aquaria within the marine laboratory, in which an un-described behaviour emerged in the tube dwelling species Magelona alleni. Later termed as ‘sand expulsion’, this behaviour was a highly conspicuous method of defecation where M. alleni would turn around in a burrow network, raise its posterior region into the water column and excrete sand around the tank. Just knowing I was most likely the first person to ever witness this was a very rewarding experience in itself! To understand why this novel behaviour was exhibited, the posterior morphology of M. alleni was compared to additional European species. These findings have led onto my first publication in a peer-reviewed journal, of which two more papers and an article are due to follow as a result of working closely with my supervisor throughout the year.

I also got the opportunity to participate in tasks that are essential to the upkeep of the museum, such as curation, specimen fixation and preservation, along with invertebrate tank maintenance. Additionally, I participated in sampling trips, including a visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed and outreach events, such as ‘After Dark at the Museum’, which saw over 2,000 visitors, and the RHS show Cardiff.   

            Overall, the museum is a very friendly, intellectual and dynamic environment that has more to offer than perhaps meets the eye. This is why anyone who wants to study the small, whacky and wonderful world of marine invertebrates should not pass up an opportunity to undertake a placement here. Spend any prolonged amount of time amongst the hundreds of thousands of specimens kept in the fluid store, and I guarantee you will not be able to escape a visceral appreciation of the natural history of our world. With this comes a feeling of preservation for all we have and a reinforcement of why museums are such a crucial component of our society today, something that is too easily forgotten. 

Read more about Kim's journey through her PTY Placement at National Museum Cardiff:



Over the past few months the museum has been working closely with colleagues at the beautiful Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids to bring together an exhibition celebrating Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ called ‘Coast’.

The exhibition fuses artworks and natural science specimens specially selected by the Oriel y Parc team from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections, and displays these alongside some of the recent museum activisim work of Amgueddfa Cymru’s 'Youth Forum Group' highlighting the issues of plastic pollution.

The multidisciplinary nature of the display explores how the sea has inspired artists for centuries, highlights the biodiversity of the Pembrokeshire coast, and how plastic now impacts on the environment and our everyday life.

Centre piece to the art works is Jan van de Cappelle’s masterpiece ‘A Calm’, surrounded by sea and coast inspired paintings from a selection of other artists including Cedric Morris and John Kyffin Williams. Amongst these works are specimens from the natural science collections capturing the richness of Pembrokeshire's wildlife, including the skeleton of a leatherback turtle found dead on Skomer Island in 1988.

The turtle had in the past been on display at the visitor centre on Skomer, but was removed a number of years back when the buildings on the Island underwent redevelopment. In need of some repairs and cleaning, the specimen became an excellent project for one of our conservation student placements at the museum, Owen Lazzari. The end result has enabled us to bring the specimen back to Pembrokeshire to form one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

Other highlights from the natural science collections include one of our historic Blaschka glass models dating from the late 1800s, and a Goose barnacle covered builder's helmet found off the Welsh Coast.

Further information can be found on Oriel y Parc's website:


It's that time of year when everyone is busy preserving the summer harvest to enjoy over the winter months, but as well as fruit for Jam and vegetables for pickles, how about colour!

It's often believed that people in the past had very little access to colour, only existing in a world dominated by shades of brown or grey. This could not be further from the truth, just armed with a little knowledge plants can yield a delightful range of colours such as red, yellow, blue and even lilac.

Until the mid-19th century textile dyes were derived from natural sources, mainly plants, but some from insects . So to help furnish our historic houses with examples of colour we are embarking on a project to reproduce the traditional dye process and see what we can create.

Volunteers, working alongside the preventive conservation team, have been busy rediscovering the dye garden at St.Fagans. While removing the weeds we were lucky enough to find a few dye plants surviving, there was a nice clump of Madder, a few Weld plants and Woad. These few survivors were a good start, Madder produces a red dye, Woad a blue and Weld a yellow.

The red is extracted from the root of the Madder plant, this was first washed, cut up and minced, then gently simmered in water to extract the colour. The Weld leaves and seeds were cut up and simmered in water to also extract the colour. We will have to be a bit more patient with the woad, as the best blue is extracted from the fresh young leaves of the first years growth.

Mordants have been used traditionally to help the dye fix to the wool and create a more intense colour. By the medieval period a naturally occurring mineral called alum was used to pre-treat the wool before dying.  We therefore decided to test a few options, so we dyed wool previously mordanted with alum, wool mordanted with Rhubarb leaves and wool not mordanted at all, just to see what impact there would be on the final colour

Once the dye baths were made, 50g batches of washed wool from our Llanwenog sheep were dipped and allowed to soak up the dye. The dye bath was heated to just below boiling and then allowed to cool. The fact that sheep were bred early on in our history to produce a greater proportion of white wool to grey or brown is an indicator that colour was just as important then as it is now.

Here are the results of our first batch.

We recently welcomed a group from Greening Our City, an environmental conservation project by Innovate Trust and National Resources Wales. They visited National Museum Cardiff to take part in activities linked to the Museum’s Urban Meadowa wildlife haven we created on the east side of the building.

In the morning session we used clay, soil and poppy seeds to make seed bombs. These can be thrown onto disturbed earth in a garden or even just placed in a plant pot, and will eventually produce beautiful red poppies. The flowers will not only look nice, but also provide a vital food source for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

We then ventured out onto the Urban Meadow to see what wildlife we could spot. At first, everything seemed quiet, but it wasn’t long before we started to find lots of different minibeasts. In a period of just 20 minutes we saw spiders, snails, bumblebees, wasps, grasshoppers, crane flies and two species of ladybird!

Photograph of two people hunting for invertebrates on the Museum's Urban Meadow
Photograph of a person hunting for invertebrates on the Museum's Urban Meadow

After a break for lunch, we gathered in the Clore Learning Space for our second workshop. Inspired by our morning session, we made models of insects and other invertebrates using colourful modelling clay. The group created spiders, snails, caterpillars, ladybirds and more.

We then split into two groups and used iPads to make stop-motion animations. Great patience is needed to make this kind of animation, as every second of finished film requires around ten still photographs.

You can watch the finished products below. In one, a spider, a ladybird and an ant meet up and take a selfie, while the other tells the dramatic tale of an invertebrate dance! I think you'll agree the group did a brilliant job directing their animations.

Gif animation showing clay models of insects dancing

The Dance

Gif animation showing clay models of insects moving around


Once that was complete, there was just enough time for the group to complete our summer trail. This quiz takes visitors on a journey around the museum to answer questions based on our new exhibition, Poppies For Remembrance.

If you are a community group and would like to take part in similar activities, please get in touch on (029) 2057 3240.

If you would like to know more about our Urban Meadow, download the free learning resource from our Learning pages.