Amgueddfa Blog

Locust swarms have for centuries destroyed crops and threatened food supplies across large parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This threat continues today - a recent plague in Madagascar destroyed 2.3 million hectares of crops. Controlling it took three years and cost million.

Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarms can move hundreds of miles within a vast ‘invasion area’ that can span dozens of countries, and even continents. To better understand and control such plagues of locusts the British founded the Anti-Locust Research Centre (ALRC) in the 1920s.

The ALRC took the lead in monitoring, studying, forecasting and controlling locust swarms. To do this they had to work with different experts including entomologists (insect specialists), cartographers (map makers), toxicologists (experts on poison), explorers, photographers, the military and local people.

For decades the ALRC gathered information on locusts worldwide. This now forms an incredible archive of thousands of documents, maps and photographs held at the Natural History Museum in London, and a collection of over 70,000 locust specimens that are now part of the collections here at Amgueddfa Cymru.

Our new display ‘Locust War’ reunites the archive and specimens to rediscover the remarkable work of the ALRC and the challenges it faced to understand and control the desert locust.

The exhibition is the work of a collaborative research project led by academics from the University of Warwick, University of Portsmouth and Glasgow School of Art, and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

‘Locust War’ is part of the displays in our InSight Gallery, and runs until the 16th September 2019.

It’s true to say that volunteers play a key role in the work of the National Museum of Wales. However, the role of a museum volunteer has changed a fair bit in recent years, so allow me to bring you all up to speed.

My name is Ben Halford and I’ve been an Explore Volunteer at the National Museum of Wales for nearly a year. The role of Explore Volunteer is still rather new. It was introduced into the museum last year with the aim of trialling a new style of volunteering. It merges several types of volunteer into one. It’s our job to engage with the visiting public in our galleries and enrich their museum experience. Because the role is still becoming more established, not many people know what Explore volunteers get up to around the museum, which is where the Explore Blog comes in.

Here we’ll be bringing you stories from volunteers across the museum, which will give you a taste of what being an Explore Volunteer entails. We’ll be including features about our favourite exhibits, our most frequently asked questions from visitors and indeed our strangest questions from visitors (the one about the Siberian dinosaur springs to mind!).

We have many Explore Volunteers who operate in the museum on a regular basis, and they all have great stories to tell. With this blog we now have a way to share these stories and to give you all an insight into what we do as part of this fantastic institution.

We want to hear from any and all volunteers about their experiences, so if you’re interested in writing for the blog please let us know! In the meantime watch this space for brilliant content coming soon!

Students from Cardiff School of Art and Design recently had an exciting opportunity. Not only did they get to spend lots of time at National Museum Cardiff, but a lucky few also got to display their work in our Main Hall!

Moving the Museum was a five-week project which brought together students from across the entire breadth of courses that CSAD offer—including animation, illustration, textiles and ceramics.

After an introduction to the museum and tours of the galleries, the students were tasked with creating original work in response to the wealth of inspiration at National Museum Cardiff. Each student brought their own skills and experience to the project, and it was very interesting to see the variety of ways the students approached the brief.

Including both fine and applied art, the responses encompassed everything from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and textiles. There were even lighting products, metalwork and reinterpretations of Marcel Duchamp’s Box in a Valise, a mini museum full of tiny treasures. We didn't get pictures of everything, but you can see some examples below.

photo of a fantasy museum inside a shoebox, including an animation reel and clay dragon
Photo of a student wearing a textile cape containing images of animal skulls
Photo of mixed media painting by a student, inspired by animal specimens in natural history galleries

As well as the physical works, there were also several screen-based pieces. These ranged from stop motion animation, explorations of our vertebrate collection and even a trailer for a computer game set in the museum.

The finished projects were presented during a grand finale in our Clore Discovery Centre. To see the finished works and to hear the students discuss their experiences with enthusiasm was a real pleasure. The day felt like a celebration of both the museum’s collections and the students’ creativity and skill.

After the final presentation day, some suitable works were chosen for display in our Main Hall. The students brought their work on a Monday, when we are closed to the public, and worked with our technicians to install their work.

The cases got much of attention over the following few weeks and our visitors very much enjoyed seeing the displays. We’re sure you’ll agree they look great! Diolch yn fawr to the students for all their hard work, and to CSAD's Owen Stickler for organising the project.

Many of the books in the Library collections at the National Museum Wales have attractive decorative techniques applied to the covers or text blocks. Decoration on text blocks, the combined pages of the book inside the covers, is particularly lovely because it tends to be hidden when they are on the shelves.

The most popular examples of decorating text blocks include marbling and gilding. But one of the most interesting techniques is the one known as disappearing fore-edge painting, which was often hidden underneath the other types of decoration.

Fore-edge painting was a technique that reached the height of its popularity from the mid-17th century onwards. It was usually applied to the longest section of the text block, the one opposite the spine, the fore-edge.

Two books in our special collections feature examples of mid-19th century disappearing fore-edge paintings. They are the two volumes of the second edition of the Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke by George Wingrove Cooke, and were published in 1836.

When the book is closed you cannot see the image, only the gilt edges of the text block, but when the leaves are fanned, the hidden picture is revealed.

To achieve this effect, the artist would need to fan the pages, and then secure them in a vice, this means they are applying the paint not to the edge of the page, but to just shy of the edge. Once completed, it is released from the vice and the gilding would be applied to the edges.

Landscape scenes were the most popular for this technique, and the ones on our books show Conway Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Very often the motivation for a fore-edge painting was a demonstration of artistic skill, so it didn’t always follow that the images were related to the text contained within the book. These two volumes of Memoirs, do not have an obvious connection to the scenes painted. Lord Bolingbroke (Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 1678–1751) was an English politician during the reign of Queen Anne, and later George I, and is probably best known as a supporter of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, but he does not appear to have any direct association with either Conwy or Caernarfon.

The volumes were acquired for the Library in 2008 from a rare book dealer, but we don’t know enough about their history to be able to tell when the fore-edge paintings were added. The first volume contains an inscription that states that the book was a gift to a T. M. Townley from his friend Samuel Thomas Abbot on his leaving Eton in 1843. Unfortunately we don’t know anything about either the recipient or the sender, so we can’t tell if one of them was ultimately responsible for painting the books.

Here at Amgueddfa Cymru we have ben busy sharing some of our favourite fossil specimens as part of the twitter hashtag #TrilobiteTuesday

What are Trilobites?

Trilobites were animals that lived in the very ancient oceans, between about 520 and 250 million years ago.  Their name means ‘three-lobed’, and comes from the fact that their hard outer shells, or ‘exoskeletons’, were divided into three distinct areas running down the full length of the body.  On the underside of the body were numerous pairs of jointed legs, making them look like overgrown woodlice.  However, they are a completely extinct type of arthropod, unrelated to modern day pill bugs.  

Our Welsh Trilobite Specimens

We are very lucky in Wales, because many of the rocks that make up our rugged landscape were laid down in the bottom of those very ancient oceans that trilobites called home.  The Museum’s collections contain a very wide range of these fossils.  Thousands of them are stored in wooden drawers in the Palaeontology Stores, sorted according to the geological period during which they lived, and then arranged in alphabetical order based on the name of the genus in which they have been classified.  The scientific names of living and fossil things have two parts: the genus, which is the group of closely-related species to which the creature belongs (in our case, Homo); and the species itself, which in our case is sapiens.  Therefore humans are known scientifically as Homo Sapiens.

An A-Z of Trilobites

We already tweet some of our favourite fossils from the Museum collections every week from the Natural Sciences Department @CardiffCurator Twitter account for #FossilFriday.  So we decided it was time we joined in with another popular palaeontology hashtag, #TrilobiteTuesday.  But confronted with such an abundance of trilobites, how do you choose which ones to share with the world?  Putting together a trilobite alphabet seemed like a logical way to work through the collections and pick out the best examples.  So it was time to dive into those drawers whose labels begin with the letter ‘A’…

Choosing trilobites for the Twitter alphabet turned out to be a fascinating exploration of the way people of the past viewed these fossils, and of the wonderfully creative variety of scientific names bestowed upon living (and once living) things. 

For some letters of the alphabet, we were spoilt for choice – should we choose Agnostus, Agraulos, Acaste, Angelina or Asaphus?  Decisions were made based on a combination of how complete and attractive the fossils are, and whether their names have an interesting meaning or origin.

Other letters proved to be more of a challenge. There are trilobite genera starting with every letter of the alphabet, but some are rare and not represented in the Museum’s collections.  Others are present, but as incomplete specimens that are ill-suited to Twitter stardom.  In a couple of cases, we decided instead to highlight important localities where trilobites are found; ‘Utah, USA’ and ‘Volkhov Valley’ offered the alliterative bonus of repeating that tricky initial letter. 

The alphabet was also a chance to celebrate the work of Museum scientists in discovering and naming new species - Baliothyreus beck and Rorringtonia kennedyi were two new species named by Dr Bob Owens, who was Head of Palaeontology at the Museum for many years and now an Honorary Research Fellow.

It’s difficult to choose favourites from these 26 remarkable trilobites, but the one with the most delightful name has to be Merlinia, named after Welsh wizard Merlin.  People finding its fossilised tails in the past thought that they were butterflies that had been turned to stone.  An old legend in the Carmarthen area tells how Merlin fell in love with a fairy sprite.  Sadly, she did not return his feelings, and one day she lured him into a cave and cast a spell to turn him to stone.  Some butterflies flitting around in the cave were caught up in the magic and can be seen to this day, preserved in the local rocks.

Which tweetable trilobite is your favourite?  Click on the link below, and have a scroll through our alphabet to decide.

https://twitter.com/i/moments/1108636415070531585

 

Glossary:

Arthropod – an invertebrate animal (doesn’t have a backbone) with a hard outer skin and jointed legs.  Arthropods include insects, spiders and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters.