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Treasures: Adventure in Archaeology has several amazing Welsh finds on display like the Cwm Nant Col Hoard, the Dolgellau Chalice and Paten and the Sully Hoard.  These objects are only a small part of the collection that the National Museum Wales holds.       

Capel Garmon Firedog

In the Iron Age, the hearth was the centre of the home.  Many hearths of high status families would have been decorated with large iron stands called firedogs.  They were often highly designed, most likely to reflect the status of its owner.  In 1852, a firedog was discovered near Llanrwst, Conwy.  Each end was topped off with what looked like a mythical animal, a combination of ox and horse.  Analysis of the object shows that it was made up of 85 different pieces and would have taken several years to construct.  When it was discovered, it had been buried in a boggy area and was in one piece, which led archaeologists to believe that it may have been buried as a ritual offering to the gods.  It was not uncommon for people to put offerings into lakes or bury them in boglands during this period.  

Capel Garmon Fire Dog

 

Langstone Tankard

While people of the past left many objects behind, they don't always survive for us to rediscover.  This is especially true for objects made out of organic material like wood.  However, if the conditions are just right, usually buried in a water-logged and oxygen-free environment, objects can survive.  That’s the case for a handful of wooden tankards dating back to the Late Iron Age or Early Roman Period.  By examining these objects, we are given clues to their use and greater insight to the society who made them.  The Langstone Tankard held about four pints.  It’s unlikely that was a single serving so the tankard may have been passed around, perhaps during a ritual.  One of the most interesting things about the tankard is that it was made out of yew wood.  Yew wood is toxic and, with enough exposure, fatal and according to Roman writings from this time period the toxicity was well known.  However, as with several other plants, in small doses it has been linked to medicinal uses.  It could be that the tankard was used with those medicinal uses in mind.

Langstone tankard

Caergwrle Bowl

One of the most impressive objects has to be the Caergwrle Bowl.  Dating back to the Bronze Age and about 3,200 years old, the bowl is made up of shale, tin and gold.  This was the same time period when the Trojan War was being fought in modern-day Turkey.  It was found in 1823 when workmen were digging drainage ditches at Caergwrle Castle in Denbighshire.  The bowl was in pieces but has since been restored.  Designs were carved into the bowl and then the gold was added.  It is thought that the bowl itself was made to represent a boat and the wave pattern on the bottom certainly furthers that.  There are also shields and oars and even a pair of oculus.  If you have ever seen a drawing of an Ancient Greek or Roman boat (especially the triremes) you will have seen that most of them are decorated with oculi, which were thought to ward off bad luck.  While the Bronze Age people of Britain would have used boats for trading, there has not been a lot of evidence found.  

Caergwrle Bowl

      

Paviland Cave

During the height of the last Ice Age (22,000 to 10,000 BC) the majority of the British Isles were covered by glaciers but we do find evidence of human activity in a few places.  The caves that line the shore of the Gower Peninsula have provided information on some of the earliest people to arrive to Wales.  In 1823, the Red Lady of Paviland was discovered.  This burial was accompanied by beads, tools and rings and the bones were stained with red ochre.  The analysis showed that the Red Lady was in fact a male in his mid-twenties who died around 27,000 BC making it one of the oldest formal burials in Western Europe. 

Illustration of the Red Lady of Paviland burial

Every year in June hundreds of organisations celebrate volunteering and the people who donate their time for free through Volunteers’ Week. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is no different and this year we are celebrating what makes us that little bit extra special – our volunteers.

Our volunteers help us every day and the odds is as a visitor you have met a volunteer! Our volunteers keep us grounded, they inspire us and tell us exactly how it is. They help us see things differently and make us work that little bit harder.

Our volunteers helps us with a range of things from farming, to conservation, to making rag rugs, to taking visitors on tours, etc. They are the people who are always amazing and help us share our passion for our collections and the stories we collect and protect.

So a big diolch – thank you to each one of our amazing volunteers!!

 

Fancy getting involved? Take a look at our Get Involved webpages for more information or follow us on twitter @AmgueddfaVols.

The Spring Bulbs for Schools project allows 1000s of school scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change. School scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open since October 2005, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.

Certificates have now been sent out to all of the 4,907 pupils that completed the project this year. See Professor Plant's report to view the finsings so far.

  • Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
  • See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
  • See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
  • Look for trends between different locations.

I would like to thank all of the Super Scientists that participated this year!

Professor Plant www.museumwales.ac.uk/spring-bulbs/

Twitter http://twitter.com/Professor_Plant

Since 2011 Museum scientists have been part of an international team helping to fill the gap in our knowledge of the diversity of Lower Plants (mosses, fungi and algae) in the Falkland Islands. To date, work has been principally on the mosses and lichens of this environmentally sensitive British dependency. In 2015, Dr Ingrid Jüttner, Principal Curator Botany, was awarded a Shackleton Scholarship to visit the Falkland Islands to study the biodiversity of freshwater diatoms.

Diatoms are microscopic algae which are found worldwide in all types of aquatic habitats. Their silica cell walls make them relatively easy to collect and study and hence they are much used in studies of water quality and environmental history.

There are only few studies on diatoms from the Falkland Islands. The current research aims to provide a checklist of common species and document them photographically. A collaboration with Dr Roger Flower, University College London, Environmental Change Research Centre, who conducted several studies on Falkland diatoms, and with Prof. Bart Van de Vijver, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium, who is an expert on freshwater diatoms from (sub-) Antarctic islands, will allow us to compile the most important species and to compare the diatom flora of the Falkland Islands to those from other South Atlantic and (sub-) Antarctic locations.

The field work took place in November 2015. Collections of diatoms were made from a range of freshwater habitats on East Falkland, West Falkland and Pebble Island. Samples were taken from ponds, streams, springs and damp terrestrial habitats. Care was taken to collect from a good range of substratum types to allow the study of the different algal communities which can vary considerably between microhabitats.

I stayed on Pebble Island for three days and had opportunities to explore both the western and eastern parts of the island. I collected from sites impacted by agriculture within the vicinity of farmland but also from remote sites away from human activities. The sites were varied and included ponds near the seashore that would receive sea spray, ponds in sand dunes and others which were certainly frequented by upland geese and other birds including penguins and therefore rich in nutrients.

Ponds on Pebble Island

In the western area of the island I took samples from various types of springs, such as a spring with stagnant water (known technically as a limnocrene), a flowing spring (rheocrene), a captured spring supplying drinking water to the Pebble Island settlement, several seepage areas and a stream.

Stream on Pebble Island

Spring on Pebble Island

It is difficult to move further afield on the island because there are no roads. However, the very friendly and supportive staff of the farm took me out in their four-wheel drive to reach the remotest corners of the island.

I then flew to West Falkland in a small aircraft. These planes are vital for transport between the different islands of the archipelago and supply the small settlements and remote farms with food and other essentials.

On West Falkland I stayed at Port Howard and explored the area in the vicinity for one day collecting from various ponds and streams. On the second day my host took me on a trip along the road to Chartres which further leads to the area around Fox Bay, providing me with ample opportunities to sample including at the Patricia Luxton Nature Reserve and in the Lakelands area.

River between Port Howard and Fox Bay, West Falkland

Pond between Port Howard and Fox Bay, West Falkland

On my return to East Falkland I visited three contrasting areas: Lafonia, a large low-lying area in the south-west which has plenty of ponds, lakes, small streams and marshy terrestrial habitats in the Cortaderia (White Grass) grassland; the Cortaderia grassland and Empetrum rubrum (Diddle-dee) plain near Volunteer Point north-east of Stanley and a more agricultural area north of Mount Kent, near Hope Cottage Farm, and along the road between Douglas Station and Salvador.

Cortaderia (White Grass) grassland of Lafonia, East Falkland

Pond in Lafonia, East Falkland

Vantan Arroyo River between Mount Pleasant Airport and Stanley, East Falkland

On the journeys to some of the areas I also collected from rivers draining the central mountain ridge, although higher areas in the mountains were not collected during this visit due to a lack of time.

River near Hope Cottage Farm, East Falkland

Pond near Douglas Station, East Falkland

I am currently processing the diatom samples in the laboratory, and the entire collection of Falkland diatom samples held at the National Museum of Wales (including samples taken by a colleague during earlier visits to the Falkland Islands) has been entered on our diatom database. Imaging and taxonomic investigations will commence soon and a visit to the Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium, to collaborate with Prof. Bart Van de Vijver is scheduled for the beginning of September.

Diatom species of the genus Surirella

Thank you to David Tatham, Chairman of the Shackleton Scholarship Fund, and other members for awarding me the scholarship; thank you to Nick Rendell, Falkland Islands Government, and to Dr Paul Brickle, Director of South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) for the research licence and support. Many thanks to all the landowners who freely granted access to their land.

 

 

As usual in this monthly blog post I’d like to share with you some of the objects that have been recently added to the industry and transport collections of Amgueddfa Cymru.

The first is a really interesting collection relating to the Court Royal Convalescent Home for the South Wales Mining Industry. The Court Royal Convalescent Home was situated in Bournemouth, and was purchased in January 1946. It was formerly a hotel, and during the Second World War it was requisitioned to accommodate Members of H.M. Forces. After extensive alterations and re-decoration it was opened for the reception of patients on 7th July 1947 with the official opening on 8th November 1947. By 1957 12,500 patients had been given 2 weeks convalescence at the home. The collection comprises of documents, such as the programme for the official opening and some advertising cards. It also contains some very interesting photographs showing the home and some of the miners convalescing there.

Cover of advertising brochure.

Official opening brochure.

Convalescing miners outside the hotel.

Miner being treated.

This lithographically printed tinplate box was produced for The Briton Ferry Steel Co. Ltd. to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. On the lid are images of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. On the inside of the lid is an aerial photograph of Albion Steel Works, with Briton Ferry Steel Works in the background. Its size suggests that it may have originally contained confectionary or possibly tobacco/cigarettes. It was almost certainly produced for distribution to employees of the company which owned Albion Steel Works, Briton Ferry Steel Works and a group of tinplate and sheet works.

Cover of commemorative tinplate box.

Interior of commemorative tinplate box showing Albion Steel Works.

 

This postcard shows the wreck of the S.S. Valsesia on Friar's Point, Barry Island, and was taken on the 25 August 1926. The Valsesia was an Italian vessel, built in 1921, that was laden with coal during the 1926 General Strike. She drifted onto the rocks after failing to anchor, and when the tide went out she broke her back. In 1927, she was towed off the beach and taken to Briton Ferry.

Wreck of the S.S. Valsesia on Friar's Point Barry Island.

This photograph shows another wreck. This one is the H.M.S. Cleveland ashore at Diles Lake, Llangennith, towards south end of Rhossilli Beach, Gower. In June 1957 when under tow by Brynforth of Swansea en route to E.G. Rees, ship breakers of Llanelli, the vessel broke her tow and went ashore at Llangennith, being driven far up the beach by the spring tides. Unsuccessful attempts to refloat her lasted until autumn and focussed on the September spring tides. She was then dismantled on the beach, the work being completed in 1959. The steel would have been consumed by open hearth furnaces at various south Wales steel works, most likely the works in the region between Port Talbot and Llanelli.

H.M.S. Cleveland ashore at Diles Lake, Llangennith.

Finally this month, this cover commemorates the "Official Opening of the Tidal Harbour and Basic Oxygen Steel Making Plant at Port Talbot on 12th May, 1970". It was issued to all men employed on the construction of the new harbour. The donor was employed as a welder, by Marples-Ridgeway, the main contractor for the unloading jetty inside the new harbour.

Commemorative cover.

 

Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
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