Amgueddfa Blog

This is one of our fabulous, weird and wonderful stores at St Fagans National Museum of History. It’s chockablock full of objects. We’re still collecting new things, but we have to be very selective in what we take in. We just don’t have the space!

Store at St Fagans National Museum of History

You can come across all sorts of things in a social history store like this one, from grandfather clocks to prosthetic limbs.

When a colleague of mine first went into this store and was told to ‘mind the mantrap’ she thought it was a joke. It turns out there really was a mantrap lurking at the end of a dark corridor!

For a long time I’ve known that the majority of museum collections are hidden away in storage, that what you see in galleries is only a small portion, but I had no idea to what extent until I started working here.

Of the 5 million objects we have across seven museums ranging from vintage motorcars, moon rock, world famous paintings, Iron Age slave chains, to a public urinal. How many objects are on display?

Only 0.2% of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ collections are on display.

So 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. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have had funding so we can enhance records and add images for you to view in Collections Online which will be up and running in the autumn. Keep an eye out for behind the scenes store tours with the curators and conservators who look after our collections, these can be really enlightening!

We’re looking after the collections, on your behalf. We hope you enjoy exploring them as much as we do.

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Last week I wrote about some of the rare books in the Museum Library for the Day of Archaeology blog. One of those books was Mona Antiqua Restaurata: an Archaeological Discourse on the Antiquities, Natural and Historical, of the Isle of Anglesey, the Antient Seat of the British Druids.

 

Because the Eisteddfod begins in Anglesey this weekend, it seems fitting to take a closer look at the book. The author of Mona Antiqua Restaurata was the Reverend Henry Rowlands (1655–1723) of Llanidan on Anglesey. Rowlands never travelled far from home, but instead spent his time investigating the stone circles, cromlechs, and other prehistoric remains on Anglesey, leading him to conclude that Anglesey (or Mona) was the ancient centre of Druidic worship.

 

His work opens with a geographical account of the island, before giving an account of the history of the place, and its people. His findings were much stronger in terms of his field observations, than in his conclusions, many of which now, we know to be factual incorrect. However, his book did much to popularise interest in Druid culture, and may travellers followed in his footsteps to explore the artefacts of Anglesey for themselves, and his accurate drawings of the various ancient monuments still hold merit.

 

We have three copies of Mona Antiqua Restaurata in the Library at National Museum Cardiff. Two of the copies are versions of the first edition, published posthumously in Dublin in 1723, while the third copy is of the second, revised edition, issued in London in 1766. That version was edited by Dr Henry Owen (1716 - 1795).

 

Dr Owen, originally from Dolgellau and a member of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, had a special interest in Welsh antiquities, and made a number of revisions to the book, one of which was the slight changes in appearance of the Druid. He removed the sandals, making the Druid barefoot, and he also added a book to the hand that was holding the oak leaves.

 

A similar illustration was produced in Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British Druids by William Stukeley (1687 - 1765), which was first published in 1740, just 17 years later than Mona Antiqua Restaurata. Although the Library doesn’t hold a copy of the first edition, we do have a copy that was produced in 1838, which depicts his Druid in a very similar manner, although instead of holding oak leaves, he is standing under an oak tree, and he has the addition of a small axe at his belt.

 

Perhaps both authors based their images on an even earlier depiction, that of Aylett Sammes (c.1636 - 1679), whose Britannia Antiqua illustrata: or, the antiquities of ancient Britain was published in 1676. From the copy we hold in the Library, we can see that his Druid has the flowing beard and hooded robes of both Rowlands and Stukeley’s versions, and his stance and the way he is holding his staff are also similar. However, there doesn’t seem to be any references to the significance of oaks in the illustration by Sammes.

Walking up to the stunning building that is the National Museum of Wales on the first day of my placement in July, I readied myself for new experiences in the world of marine invertebrate research! I am a Cardiff University student studying zoology and have always been fascinated with the sea, from giant whales to microscopic plankton. However, the weird and wonderful world of marine invertebrates particularly sparked my interest after being offered the chance to study a family of mysterious bristle worms (polychaetes) called Magelonids; perhaps fittingly, commonly called shovelhead worms because of the presence of their flattened heads.

The intention of this year is to learn more about these burrowing animals so a better understanding of their behaviour, ecology and anatomy can be reached. Hopefully, with these aims, a relatively unknown organism can become more accessible and recognised to everyone.

There are many questions to explore, for example, some species of Magelonidae possess abdominal pouches, which the function of is unknown. Why would they need these conspicuous structures? Also, very little is known about how these worms reproduce. It is unknown as to whether they reproduce once (semelparity) or have multiple reproduction events (iteroparity). Furthermore, do they reproduce at the same time in a kind of mass-spawning event?

 I will tackle these kinds of questions by observations of live specimens in the museum lab with the aid of time-lapse photography for overnight observations. By examining the worms in a tank with conditions similar to in their natural environment, variables such as movement in tubes, responses to food, timings of different behaviours, and hopefully, with a bit of luck, reproduction or pouch function can be reviewed.

Additionally, I will use previous research in conjunction with museum specimens of the family to help me not only try to answer these uncertainties, but also to develop other skills, such as scientific drawing and taxonomy. By viewing specimens under the microscope, a camera lucida can be used to help draw an outline of the desired subject. This template can then be utilized to fill in details of the species, which is helpful to get a clear and simple view of the animal’s morphology.

It has been an interesting and exciting first few weeks here and I am eager to carry on observations and delve deeper into gaining a better understanding of the marine world. Thus, opening up opportunities for us to perceive these secretive and fascinating animals in a different light entirely.

Happy Day of Archaeology everyone!

Today, the 28th July 2017, is the annual online event in which archaeologists from across the country blog about archaeology. The idea is to showcase the diversity of the subject and highlight what individuals are doing on and around this day.

This year we’ve badgered people from across the museum to contribute posts on who they are and how they engage with archaeology through their various research and projects and on a daily basis.

We have been amazed by the positive response, not just from within History and Archaeology but from a whole range of disciplines. The topic of posts thus ranges from prehistoric Cardiff to botany to archaeological curation to snails! It really shows how broad and varied archaeology truly is, beyond the traditional view of woolly jumpers, beards, and whips (though it has been known!)

These posts are all hosted on the external site: www.dayofarchaeology.com and links to blogs from our staff are listed below and will be added to throughout the day.

We hope you enjoy!

Adam GwiltAn Archaeological Curator’s Day / Diwrnod ym mywyd Curadur Archaeolegol

Dr. Rhianydd Biebrach The Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project

Dr. Ben RowsonSnails at Snail Cave, and elsewhere in Wales

Jonathan Howells - From Housing to History and Archaeology

Kristine Chapman - Rare Books from the National Museum Wales Library

Sarah Parsons - Photographing Archaeology

Dr. Heather PardoeHarold Augustus Hyde’s Contribution to Welsh Archaeology

Dr. Elizabeth WalkerContemplating and communicating the Palaeolithic landscapes of Wales

Sian IlesMarvellous medieval tiles-public engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

Matt KnightA Day in the Life of an Archaeology Intern / Diwrnod ym mywyd Archaeolegydd preswyl

 

With the school summer holidays once again upon us, it is time for the Learning Department at St Fagans National Museum of History to once again look back at the year that was and begin the preparations for September. There certainly won't be much time to put our feet up this summer!

This is a very exciting time for the team here. With the newly redeveloped main building now open, September will see us welcoming schools to the brand new Weston Centre for Learning. This will give us a dedicated reception desk for group visitors as well as two new learning studios, a lecture theatre and a fantastic sandwich room. We really can’t wait for September to arrive so we can begin to show off these spaces to schools!

With new spaces, come new opportunities. With space having been at a premium during the redevelopment process, it has been hard for us to increase our offer for schools. However, from September onwards, we will be running a range of new workshops for schools, as well as seeing the return of another, much loved session.

Discussions with teachers as part of our Formal Learning Forum have led us to increase the workshops that we offer that complement each other. This allows schools to book more than one workshops for groups, filling their visits with activities linked to the curriculum. For information of workshops available for Foundation Phase and Key Stage 2 groups, please visit the learning pages of the website. They can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/

As we are eager to show off the new Weston Centre for Learning, we are hosting an open evening for Primary School Teachers in September. The open evening will be an opportunity for teachers to explore the new spaces and familiarise themselves with the new spaces as well as meet the ever so friendly learning team! We will also showcase the workshops we run for schools so teachers can be sure of what they are booking. The open evening is taking place on September the 20th, and booking information can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/teachers/

We don’t want to wish the summer away, but we can’t wait to get started again in September. Hopefully we will see you then!