Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


Amazonian fieldwork

Adrian Plant, 27 March 2015

I’m now in the enigmatic central Amazonian city of Manaus (of World Cup fame) situated where the white waters of the Rio Solimões converge with the inky black Rio Negro to form the Amazon proper. This is my third visit as part of a project in collaboration with my colleague José Albertino Rafael at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) and our PhD student Josenir Câmara. Our Project is describing the diversity of a particular group of flies in the Amazon using classical taxonomic approaches and relating it to Global evolutionary and biogeographic patterns using, for example, emerging molecular-genetic methodology. In order to do this we first have had to travel to remote areas of the Amazon, collecting flies to be brought back to the labs in Manaus and Cardiff - where the hard work really starts.

On previous visits we have surveyed remote areas on the Rio Negro close to Venezuela, way up the Solimões along the Colombian and Peruvian borders as well as downstream in Amapa State between the mouth of the great river and French Guiana. During this visit we intend to leave the Brazilian Amazon behind and explore fly diversity in some of the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. We are all keyed up and excited by the imminent prospect of getting out into the forest again and trying to anticipate some of the discoveries we might make.

Of course, we cannot really know exactly what we are going to find but our past experiences suggest that much of what we discover will be completely new. That is one of the great delights of being an entomologist in the tropics as the diversity of insects is so vast and our knowledge so sparse that exciting discoveries are virtually inevitable. You would have to walk around the Amazon with your eyes and mind closed not to find something totally and often bewilderingly novel!  But for the time being we must contain our excitement as we spend our time sorting the field equipment we will take with us, pouring over maps and satellite imagery and speculating about finds we might make. I can’t wait for our flight to Quito!

Josenir Camara & Adrian Plant in the lab at INPA

Solar eclipse 2015

Jana Horak, 26 March 2015

The days before Friday 20th March, had staff in the Department of Natural Sciences watching the weather forecast with great attention.  Friday 20th March 2015 was a really special day as we had the opportunity in Cardiff, weather permitting, to see a partial eclipse of the Sun. This does not happen very often, the next one won’t be until 12th August 2026. 

On the Thursday we had a great start to the celebration by hosting an evening of talks on eclipses at the Museum. These were given by Dr Chris North, Dr Rhodri Evans, Dr Mark Hannam, astronomers and physicists from Cardiff University; and we all felt much better informed as to what we knew about the sun, why an eclipse was occurring, and what eclipses tell us about gravity. Equally important was a talk by Jenni Millard, an undergraduate student but experienced astronomer, on how to view the sun safely. Having listened intently the audience were issued with free solar eclipse viewing glasses.

Friday morning and we were in luck, a perfect sunny morning and all that worry about the weather had paid off!  By 8.00 a few people had already arrived outside the Museum, by 8.20 there were many more. At 8.22 we saw the first contact of the eclipse. For a short while the sun was almost obscured by the trees in the Gorsedd Gardens, but not for long. With colleagues from Cardiff University and the Institute of Physics we provided a range of methods to view the eclipse safely. These included a solar telescope that provided the greatest detail of the sun’s surface, pinhole viewers, ranging from boxes and tubes to simple card and paper, solar viewing boxes, colanders and eclipse glasses. Most visitors had noted the warnings about safe eye protection, only a few needed reminding that two pairs of sunglasses wouldn’t do the job!

Over the 126 minutes of the eclipse from first contact of the moon until we saw the entire sun once again, over 1000 people viewed the eclipse on the Museum steps with the viewing glasses provided. In total we estimate that over this period nearly 2000 people joined the event. At one point the queue disappeared round the corner of the Museum into Park Place almost to the University! However this was a great event with a fantastic atmosphere of participation and patient queuing.

For more astronomy linked events please see Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales What’s On pages, next one is on 18th April, and for education resources check out the Museum’s partnership Down2Earth Project web site

For more information on our Eclipse 2015 activities see our Storify Story.

Crowds gathering outside the museum

Making sure we all wear our safety glasses!

Using binoculars to project the image on to a pillar

Using a solar telescope

I have just begun my fourth week as Principal Curator of Historic Buildings, here at St. Fagans, and this is my first blog post. My background is in archaeology, and more specifically, experimental archaeology.

This type of archaeological investigation tests the theories that have grown out of excavated archaeological evidence. Essentially we try and build something that would leave the same evidence as discovered, if excavated in the future. This challenges our assumptions and raises new questions.

Iron Age Roundhouses

In my time I have built four roundhouses based on the archaeology of Iron Age homes. As the excavated archaeology in many cases is less than 30cm in depth, everything above ground is conjecture derived from the surviving evidence. As you may imagine, trying to figure out the structural details of buildings that haven’t been seen in 2,000 is a challenging yet satisfying task. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to be part of St. Fagans latest experimental projects – the construction of an Iron Age farmhouse based on evidence from Bryn Eryr in Anglesey, and Llys Llywelyn, a medieval Royal Court based on evidence from Llys Rhosyr, again in Angelsey.

As I write the thatching of the farmhouse is underway, and it won’t be long until the building is watertight. This will be a blessed relief, as the prolonged rain this winter has prevented the buildings 1.8m-thick clay walls from drying as quickly as hoped. Yes, the walls are of solid clay – unlike most excavated roundhouses which had wattle and daub or stone walls. Although such buildings were not uncommon, this is the first reconstruction of this kind of under-represented roundhouse.

A Medieval Prince's Court

The two buildings of Llys Llywelyn have reached chest height, and the Museum’s stonemasons are about to start on the window reveals. The court was discovered in Anglesey and excavated between 1992 and 1996. The surviving masonry stands no more than 1m in height. Therefore, like the farmhouse, this too is a replica based on excavated evidence.

Written records from the period, such as ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ state clearly that there was a Royal Hall at this location, and frequented by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth during the first half of the 13th century. What we do not know for certain, however, is what it looked like. This knowledge comes from the comparative analysis of surviving Royal halls built during the same period, as seen at Conwy castle and the Bishop’s Palace in St. Davids.

As I plan to write regular blog posts to keep you informed of the latest developments, I will also aim to re-cap the work that has already been achieved so that you have a clearer understanding of these remarkable buildings, and our attempts at bringing it back to life.

Spelt thatching a roof
Thatching the Iron Age roundhouses - almost there!
Thatched reconstructed roundhouses
Finishing the thatchwork on the Iron Age roundhouses
Llys Rhosyr being built
Work on Llys Rhosyr is continuing
Craftsmen working on a stone building
Work on the window reveals starts, using traditional stonemasonry techniques

@DyddiadurKate - Gwneud Menyn

Mared McAleavey, 25 March 2015

Yn ei dyddiadur ddoe, nododd Kate ei bod wedi 'Corddi y boreu. Modryb Erwfedig yma yn nol ymenyn.'

Roedd gwaith y llaethdy yn amlwg yn rhan ganolog o’i bywyd, a hithau’n cael ei disgrifio fel “merch ffarmwr gwaith llaethdy” yng Nghyfrifiad 1911. Dwi eisoes wedi disgrifio’n fras y broses o gorddi yn Tyhen, ond beth oedd y camau nesaf er mwyn gwneud menyn? Dyma ddyfynnu Kate unwaith eto yn disgrifio’r prosesau mewn cyfweliad hanes llafar gyda Minwel Tibbott nôl ym 1970. 

Wedi i’r menyn ffurfio, byddai Kate yn “i godi o wyneb y llaeth” gyda llaw a’i roi mewn noe, sef “fel bywlen bren fawr.” ‘Doedd dim yn cael ei wastraffu, ac unai byddai’r llaeth enwyn yn cael ei roi i’r anifeiliaid, neu byddai’r teulu yn “iwsho hwnnw i neud siot a phethe felly te, a gneud glasdwr [sef dŵr a llaeth enwyn] i fynd allan i’w yfed adag g’neud gwair … Fydde llawer iawn yn rhoi blaw’ ceirch hefyd, jesd i sgatro fo ar wyneb y can ‘n te wrth fynd â fo allan i’r cae gwair.”

I drin y menyn, roedd angen ei olchi’n lân mewn dŵr oer, “oedd raid chi ga’l y llaeth i gyd allan ne fysa fo’m yn cadw dim.” Wedi ei olchi, roedd rhaid cael gwared ar yr hylif. Yn y cyfweliad, mae Kate yn disgrifio'r hyn rwy’n ei adnabod fel clapiwr menyn, sef teclyn siâp madarch a ddefnyddid i weithio’r menyn yn y noe i gael y dŵr allan - “sgimer fydde ni’n galw beth o’ gynno ni yn i drin o’n te.”  Byddai Kate “yn gwbod yn syth” pan fo’r menyn yn barod “fydde chi’n sprinclo halen a’no fo a’i gymysgu’ o reit dda, a wedyn i godi o a neud o’n bwysi wedyn.”  Roedd ganddi “glorian i bwyso fo’n te, ‘dyn godi o, hynny o’chi’n feddwl fysa gneud pwys ‘n te a wedyn roi o mewn cwpan fenyn … ‘dyn o’dd o’n dŵad yn grwn … Roi o wedyn ar y slab carreg ‘n te, yna fydda ni’n roi’r print arno fo … Oedd pob ffarm a’i brint i hunan … Weles i ddeilen derwen, o’ hwnnw’n neis a wyddo chi mesen a’n o fo te … Welish i fuwch genno ni hefyd ryw dro … O’dda ni’n werthu o’n lleol i siop yn y pentre y rhan fwya” ac yn cyfnewid y menyn am “neges yn y siop.”

I Spy…Nature out and about

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 24 March 2015

Last year Staff from the Departments of Natural Sciences, and Learning, Participation and Interpretation took their I Spy…Nature themed pop-up museum out into the community. This year we have been delivering I Spy…Nature related workshops throughout March as part of the I Spy…Nature Exhibition outreach programme. Workshops at National Museum Cardiff allowed members of the public to carry out fieldwork within the museum, bringing the outside in! Visitors were able to explore the miniature world of British Slugs and Snails, go pond dipping, explore a rocky shore (utilising our brand new portable 3D Rocky shore) and go worm charming with our OPAL Community Science officer. During the middle part of March, staff ran a series of school workshops both at National Museum Cardiff and within a local primary school, where pupils could explore the seafloor, Fossils and Minerals before trying their hand at scientific illustration with a local artist.  The aim of these sessions was to inspire children to explore their natural environment and also to give them a chance to experience the work that museum scientists do. For British Science and Engineering Week, staff held an I Spy…Nature Open day in the main Hall at National Museum Cardiff, with a plethora of specimens from our collections and even a giant lobster, fly and squirrel!

 For more information on the I Spy…Nature activities see our Storify Story.

Viewing lichens with OPAL community scientist

I Spy...Nature workshops at Cogan Primary School

I Spy...Nature workshops at National Museum Cardiff on fossils

Exploring our 3D rocky shore model