Amgueddfa Blog

....... quite literally in some cases!

Last week saw us head up to Berwick-upon-Tweed to sample for species of marine bristle worms, the shovelhead worms (Annelida: Magelonidae). The aim was to collect enough of these burrowing animals from under the muddy sand at low tide that we could contribute to our collections and additionally place some in our laboratory tank for live observations.

After closely examining one species of shovelhead worm at the museum (Magelona alleni) for the majority of the first seven months of my professional training year (PTY) from Cardiff University, and successfully finding out some exciting new behavioural traits (in press), I find myself wanting to expand not only my own knowledge, but becoming eager to contribute more to our overall understanding of these fascinating and somewhat enigmatic creatures. The more science we uncover, the more well known these species, who perhaps do not receive the same attention as some of the bigger vertebrates, become. I see this as a crucial factor to raise awareness for a preservation of the natural world in our future.

With this mantra circling around my head, my enthusiasm was bursting as we drove to the beach on our first day of sampling. Low tide was just before 8am, meaning leaving our cottage, full gear in tow, at around 6.30am. No problems, I thought. I’m ready for that chilly Northern January air. Bring. It. on. Assembled with so many layers that we lost count, we clambered out of the car ready to get onto the beach, undeterred by the eerie super moon and snow battering our windscreen as we drove to our destination that morning. We were looking for two species of Magelona in particular, Magelona johnstoni and Magelona mirabilis, known to occur in abundance in this location, where George Johnston first describer of the the latter species lived and collected worms (you can learn more about the fascinating life of George Johnston and what he accomplished at these sites: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Johnston_(naturalist), http://www.raysociety.org.uk/userfiles/File/Johnston%20essay.pdf).

Our first dig looked promising, revealing many of the now familiar milky white, almost stringy, teeny tiny strands of magelonids. As we gently prised them out of the sand and put them into test tubes, by using seawater to gently wash the surrounding sand away in our hands, it occurred to me my hands were starting to go a little bit numb in the icy water. I thought I obviously wasn’t quite as seasoned at this as Kate, my museum mentor. Luckily we had hand warmers at the ready to dive our hands into after each dig. However, as we dug more and more both of us felt our hands turn to popsicles, and let me tell you, anyone who has ever tried to get a worm that is only a few millimeters in length into a test tube does not want popsicle hands. Over the next few hours our feet slowly turned into matching ice cubes, until we had to call it a day. Luckily for us, we had the same scenario to play out all over again the next morning.

 What I haven’t mentioned yet is that despite the somewhat crisp weather, we saw some of the most breathtaking sunrises, with only the odd oystercatcher and redshank to accompany us. Along with this, we were further rewarded by the pure amount of magelonids present in such small spaces, meaning our collection was plentiful and we could take the animals back to our make-shift laboratory at our accommodation for identification, which is when you really start to see what the fuss is about with these worms. The stringy white appearance you see from afar turns into an elegant, ethereal-like animal under the microscope, with complex morphological features. Perhaps, most notably, long, flowing palps that arise near to the animal’s mouth. The number we collected means observations in the laboratory can now be started for new research. George Johnston’s description of the abundance of the animals here sure hasn’t changed much in well over 100 years. Ultimately, the moral of the story is that sometimes, the more changeling the environment, the more recompense. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be worm hunting in the Artic!

Catch up with some other tails of a PTY student

Swansea has a whole host of treasures just lying within its midst, from the Red Lady of Paviland to the 4200 year old flint dagger that formed the basis for Saving Treasures; Telling Stories first Community Archaeology project, ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’. With the rip roaring tides, miles of beaches and hidden caves waiting to be discovered, you’d expect the sea (for which the city is named) to occasionally stir up something significant; but what about an unassuming Welsh livestock farm? Doesn’t sound like the setting for a major archaeological discovery, does it? Suprisingly, that’s exactly where local man, Geoff Archer, picked up one half of a Middle Bronze Age copper-alloy palstave axe mould dating somewhere between 1400-1200 BC.

It was over two decades ago when Geoff first picked up a metal detector, having first taken it up as a hobby after he got married. But it wasn’t until he retired last year that he was able to really get out into the field, and armed with a pair of wellies and a brand spanking new detector, he decided to venture to one of his old jaunts – a farm not far from his home.

“Over the last few nights I’d been thinking about going to the farm and something was telling me to go to the right hand side of it, just to walk the fields,” he explains, “so that’s what I did.” After traipsing around in the mud for a few hours, Geoff stumbled upon a patch of uneven terrace he couldn’t help but investigate.

Unearthing History

“I got to the lumpy, bumpy parts, had a couple of signals – nothing much.” But then Geoff had another signal, “a cracking signal” and realised it was time to dig around in the dirt to find out what it was. Figuring it would just be another case of random odds and sods, or a coke bottle lid (they find an abundance of litter!) he was surprised to hear a clunk.

“I hit this bloomin’ great big stone, so I dug around it, lifted up a clod of earth” and underneath yet another stone he noticed something interesting inside the muddy cave, something not made of rock. “What the heck’s that?” he thought, picking up the oddity with care. 

“I pulled it out and on the back end of the mould there’s, like, ribs.” This prompted Geoff to recall a discovery he made about 15 years ago, when he wasn’t so rehearsed in Bronze Age metalwork.

“Going back, must be about 15 years ago, I found an item - I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t experienced enough then. So this item, I took it home and I put it in the garage, as most detectorists do!” He had a feeling it was important but wasn’t sure why.

After a few years of picking the item up off his work bench and trying to decipher its meaning, Geoff decided to take it up to the kitchen and do some research. “So I started buying books to research Roman, believe it or not, alright? So, I bought this book and I was looking through it. I got to the part for the Stone Age, read that. Then I got to the Bronze Age, and I turned a couple of pages and there was the item I’d found! Bronze Age Axe Head. My jaw just dropped, right? And the Bronze Age Axe Head had ribs on the outside.”

Devastatingly, Geoff has misplaced the axe head, which he is now, more than ever, desperate to locate – and even more upsetting still, it’s the same type of axe as the mould he discovered 15 years later would have been built to make. “It’s what they call a loop, I think it’s got two loops on this one, each side, where they used to put, if you can imagine, the Bronze Age axe head. It’s flat, but this part at the back, its round and they put it over the wood and then they loop it, they tie it onto the wood to secure it.”

Monumental findings

When Geoff uncovered the mould, he immediately realised its importance thanks to his previous finding – but he still wasn’t entirely certain of what it was he’d discovered. “On the inside of the mould, there’s like a round piece, like in the middle part. I honestly thought at that time that it was a bit off a tractor, because it was so… the engineering of it, the precision engineering of it! But in the back of my mind I was thinking it can’t be off a tractor because it’s got these ribs at the back from this Bronze Age axe that I found.”

After digging out some modelling clay and experimenting, he came to the realisation that what he’d found was an axe head mould. Geoff phoned up one of his buddies at Swansea Metal Detectorist Club for a second opinion and after a positive diagnosis by them both, he took it along to a club meeting.

“As it so happened, it was our ‘Find of the Month’ meeting!” Geoff explains. “So I won find of the month for the artefact and Steve, our Finds Liaison Officer, said ‘you’d better show this to someone in Cardiff because they are going to be interested.’ So, photographs were sent to Cardiff [National Museum of Wales] and they wanted to see it. I went with Steve to Cardiff and the mould’s been there ever since!”

Mark Lodwick, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Cymru Co-Ordinator at The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff confirmed Geoff’s identification and has recorded the item so it can be used in further research and study.

Under the Treasure Act, the mould isn’t classed as ‘treasure’, so why is it so special? “It’s the only one that’s been found in South West Wales,” Geoff enthuses, “and it’s the second one that’s been found in Wales. The other one was found in a hoard of axes in Bangor in the 1950’s, so this is the first one that’s been found since then!”

Preserving the past

Geoff is in utter disbelief that he was the one to stumble across the important artefact, which has been conserved at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, but, eventually he’d like it to end up back home at Swansea Museum.

Having reported the axe mould to the museum, Geoff sees this as an important part of his role as a treasure hunter. Letting other people view the item, he says, “gives other people a chance to understand about their locality, of what’s been going on.”

“I think it opens up a new chapter in [Swansea’s history]. There’s a bit of history regarding the Bronze Age but to find something like an axe making product in Swansea, which has never been found before - it opens up a new chapter of where these people were living and how far were they living on the fields of that farm,” explains Geoff. “That’s my quest now I suppose, is to try and find out – keep walking the fields and I might find the other half, I don’t know.”

With hopes of the axe mould ending up in Swansea Museum, Geoff is keen that people will be interested in viewing his remarkable find. “The more publicity it gets the better!” he says. “The more people who know about this the better as far as I am concerned, because it’s the first one to be found in South West Wales and the second one to ever be found in Wales – so don’t tell me that’s not important.”

To discover more about Swansea’s Bronze Age history and see some fascinating Neolithic archaeological artefacts visit Swansea Museum, entry is free!

Words: Alice Pattillo

Hi Bulb Buddies,

I’d like to share some photos with you. Remember, if you ask your teacher to send photos of your plants to me I can share them with other schools involved in the project! I’m especially interested in photos that show signs of the coming spring, such as flower buds, bees, butterflies, frogspawn or nesting birds! Can you think of any other signs of spring?

There has been some confusion over when to enter your flowering dates online. You can monitor how tall your plants are growing each week and let me know in the ‘comments’ section when you enter your weekly weather records. But the ‘flowering date’ and the height of your plant on the day it flowers are to be entered on the website only once the flower has opened. 

Look at the picture of Daffodils on the right (click on it to make it bigger). This picture was taken on a cold day, so the flowers haven’t fully opened. But, you can still tell which ones have flowered by looking closely at the picture. If you can clearly see all of the petals then your plant has flowered. Before flowering, the petals are held tight in a protective casing called a spathe.

The second photo on the right shows Daffodils before they have opened. These Daffodils are still in bud, which means the flowers are still developing. Once the flower has matured inside the bud (and the weather is warm enough) the casing will begin to open. This can take a few hours or a few days! If you watch your plants carefully you might see this happening! Once you can see all of your petals and the casing isn’t restricting them at all, you can measure the flowers height and enter your findings to the website.

Have you compared the heights of the plants in your class? Are there big differences in the size and maturity of the plants, or are they all very similar? What about the plants planted in the ground, are these any bigger than the ones in your plant pots? Why do you think this is? You can let me know your thoughts in the ‘comments’ section when you enter your weekly weather records!

Once your plants start to grow, send your stories and pictures to Professor Plant to be included in the next Bulb-blog or shared on Twitter

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies!

Professor Plant

 

Your Comments:

I've enjoyed reading about your bulbs, the weather and the things you have been doing in school. Thank you for letting me know when extreme weather has meant weather data couldn't be collected. Keep the comments coming Bulb Buddies!

Arkholme CE Primary School: Some of the bulbs have spouted and some have not. We have not had much rain or much warmth either. The average temperature has been 5 degrees and the rain has been 3 ml. L and E. Professor Plant: Wow Bulb Buddies, thank you for your update. I’m impressed to have the average temperature and rainfall for the week. Keep up the fantastic work!

Steelstown Primary School: Happy New Year, still enjoying the bulb project, lots of little sprouts are coming up now.

Carnforth North Road Primary School: Bulbs have started to grow in pots and in the ground as well.

Inverkip Primary School: The water was frozen on Friday. The bulbs have started to grow.

Carnforth North Road Primary School: Lots of Crocus are growing but not very many daffodils.

Ysgol Bro Pedr: A few buds beginning to show their heads above ground this week - happy days.

Tonyrefail Primary School: Two of our pots have got shoots coming through.

Pembroke Primary School: Approximately half crocus and a few daffodils now showing.

Nant y Moel Primary: Our bulbs have started to grow, we are getting excited.

Henllys CIW: Monday was 26 mm and shoots are starting to come up.

Carnbroe Primary School: Hi Professor Plant on Wednesday the rain was very heavy and the temperature begun to rise. Today it was very frosty and icy. Hopefully our bulbs will begin to grow soon.

Ysgol Y Traeth: Yn anffodus mae ein thermomedr wedi torri yn gwyntoedd cryfion rydym yn aros am un newydd i gyrraedd.

Glenluce Primary School: We are building an ark in Glenluce! Professor Plant: Gosh Glenluce Primary, that sounds exciting! Please share photos of your ark!

Glenluce Primary School: Snow day Friday, great snowball fights!

St Teresa's Primary School: We were closed on Wednesday due to snow.

Biggar Primary School: Due to snow the school was closed and no data was collected for 3 days.

St. Columbkille's Primary School: Heavy snow and school closures meant pupils were unable to get readings for some days.

Ysgol Beulah: Roedd llawer o law dros y penwythnos.

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: Very cold week!

 

 

 

The discovery of the Welsh dinosaur Dracoraptor showed us that dinosaurs lived in the Jurassic of south Wales 200 million years ago. However if you went back to that time you would also have seen little shrew-like mammals hiding in the undergrowth, these are the very earliest mammals.

 

The bones and teeth of these tiny, furry creatures are preserved in caves and fissures in rocks, where perhaps they were sheltering, or even hibernating during cold winters. Fossils of these minute mammals were first found in a quarry in south Wales seventy years ago. Palaeontologists have pieced together the fragile bones to reconstruct what the animals would have looked like. One early mammal has been named Morganucodon which means "Glamorgan tooth”

 

New research undertaken at Bristol University, funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, used powerful X-rays to scan these tiny bones making it possible to piece together the fragments digitally. Then, using modern mammals as a guide, palaeontologists digitally recreated muscles on scanned images of the skeleton. Bristol scientists used computer simulations to work out how a skeleton worked. By looking at their teeth they could tell that some early mammals were able to crunch insects with hard wing cases, while others could only bite softer ones.

 

We have a new display in our Insight gallery highlighting this research which includes an amazing model of Morganucodon, made by palaeoartist Bob Nicholls. It looks unbelievably lifelike and answers to the name Morgie!

We are pleased to announce that our very first virtual reality (VR) tour has been launched. Working with Google Arts and Culture a virtual underground tour of Big Pit has been created. The VR tour is part of the exciting world of Google Expeditions.

What is Google Expeditions?

To take part in the tour you can download the Google Expeditions app for free to a tablet and phone from either Google Play or the App Store. Using Google Expeditions a teacher can lead the tour from their tablet as a guide whilst pupils are explorers on phones. The phones are placed in viewers which allows the explorers to view 360° panoramas and 3D images. The guide has access to the 360° panoramas annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make the tour easy to integrate into the curriculum. To ensure you get the full experience check that your equipment meets the specification requirements.

What will the Big Pit tour show?

It is free to download and use the tour, which will give you the chance to virtually explore a Welsh coal mine. The virtual tour gives you a taste of what it is like to go underground at Big Pit and provides access to those who may have difficulty accessing the site. Of course nothing can beat the real thing and the best way to experience the mine is by visiting Big Pit.

How to find the tour

To explore the Big Pit VR tour, simply search for Big Pit in the Google Expeditions and download the tour. The tour is also available in Welsh and is the first Welsh language VR tour available on Google Expeditions.

Enjoy the tour and let us know what you think of it on our Twitter @BigPitmuseum.