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Animations and castings in the Celtic Village

Sean Harris's animation
Inside Sean Harris's theatre...

Throughout the day, visitors were treated to twenty minute showings of some of artist Sean Harris's archaeological / mythological / phantasmagorical animations. Twenty visitors squeezed into an Iron Age roundhouse for each screening, the door was closed and the performance began, with the projection being cast onto the earth floor of the house.

It was a thought-provoking event which was enjoyed by all.
Celtic Village roundhouse
A fire is lit in a roundhouse and the wet thatch gently steams. This house in the Celtic Village provided a welcome refuge for many visitors during the course of the day.
Firedog and shields
A welcoming fire in the Celtic Village.
The bell casting experiment
The experimental bells were set deep within the charcoal-filled furnace, and air was blown into its base using the bellows. It took a few hours before the team were happy that the temperature had risen enough to braze the bell. In fact it had risen too much as later photographs show.
Bell casting
Tim took the job of extracting the red hot bell castings from the furnace, a task best achieved using long tongs held at arm's length.
The replica bells
If we knew everything about this technology then there wouldn't be any reason to experiment! The bell on the left is one of Tim's early attempts at replicating an early medieval bell. You can see some of the bronze coating around the upper part of the bell, but it didn't spread over all of the surface. The other two bells are today's attempts. This time, the high temperature melted the bell's metal and much of the bronze has oxidised, but some of it has coated the surface. A partial success to be improved on tomorrow.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

There were two big events today in St Fagans’ Celtic Village: screenings of Sean Harris’s animations which fuse Welsh myth and archaeological discoveries, and Tim Young’s project to recreate a Welsh early medieval church bell.

Sean took over a roundhouse for the day, turning it into a make-shift cinema, with the floor of the house providing the screen. It was a fantastic setting, entirely appropriate for Sean’s work which plays on the kinds of stories that Iron Age people may have told one another around the campfire of an evening.

I only managed to sit in on one of Sean’s screenings; most of my day was spent just outside the Celtic Village where Tim Young had set up his workshop. When we first arrived at St Fagans this morning I had thought that we’d have to abandon this part of the festival. Torrential rain had drenched the area and it was hard to imagine that he’d be able to light a fire in his charcoal bell furnace, but Tim’s greater experience shone through and he soon had things up and running.

The aim of his experiment was to create an iron bell with a bronze surface coating, replicating an example in the museum's collections. This involved taking a wrought iron sheet and wrapping it to make a bell shape. Bronze was then wrapped around the bell and the whole was encased in a mix of clay, sand and horse dung. This package was then popped into the bell furnace and covered by charcoal. A continuous rota of bellows-work raised the temperature with the aim of melting the bronze and causing it to flow across the surface of the bell.

This was the plan. Unexpectedly, the temperature in the furnace proved to be so hot that today’s two attempts both melted the bells. But lessons have been learnt and new plans have been put in place. Success is predicted for tomorrow when the experiment will continue.

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