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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

The final countdown

Bernice Parker, 25 March 2015

Another successful lambing season at St Fagans is drawing to a close. We hope you’ve enjoyed watching all the action live on Lambcam along the way. There are still a few ewes left to deliver, as I write this the lamb-o-meter has clocked up 144. We’re on course to beat our target of 150 lambs, and hope to pass 160. That figure includes:

  • 5 sets of triplets
  • One set of quads (our first ever).

There’s been some losses along the way:

  • One set of twins - early miscarriage.
  • One set of twins – stillborn.
  • Four lambs accidentally smothered by their mothers
  • One triplet failed to thrive – died at 2 days old.

We are expecting to finish with two lambs being bottle fed – that’s Herbert, the smallest of the quads, and another lamb whose mother's milk dried up due to mastitis. So until next year, here is a picture of Herbert enthusiastically tucking into his lunch yesterday.

 

Herbert the lamb eating his lunch - with half of it over his face

See you in 2016 Lambcam-ers!

how do you know if a sheep is in labour?

Bernice Parker, 18 March 2015

Hello Lambcam-ers - here is the answer to the most frequently asked question of this year's lambing season.

'How can you tell when a sheep is in labour?'

Here are some of the signs that you can look out for:

  • Hiding away quietly in the corner – this behaviour would be to avoid predators in the wild.
  • Licking the lips – a preparation for cleaning the lamb after it is born.
  • Restless standing up and lying down.
  • Pawing at the ground – scratching up a soft ‘nest’ for the lamb to be born into.
  • Visible straining at regular intervals.
  • Visible mucus, water bag or a pair of feet protruding from the ewe’s back end!

And now here's a gratuitously cute picture of St Fagans first ever set of quads. Born last night...

The St Fagans shepherd, with the first set of quads ever to be born at the museum

Watch a view live from the lambing shed to see the action unfold

As part of the redevelopment project at St.Fagans National History Museum, we wish to open our doors to volunteers and invite them to work alongside the Preventive Conservation team, helping to care for the collections on open display in the historic houses. There are hundreds of objects on display ranging from furniture, textiles, pottery and agricultural equipment. Providing plenty of opportunities to share a skill or learn something new.


Caring for this site is no mean feat, we currently have 26 furnished properties including a castle. Plus there are 4 new buildings on the way, including a medieval hall and the Vulcan pub! So plenty to keep us busy. The Museum is also open throughout the year and can have up to 700,000 visitors during that time, which means we are kept on our toes making sure everything continues to look good, day in and day out.

This work is a combined effort, involving staff from many different sections, which often goes on behind the scenes unnoticed by visitors. However, we wish to change this and provide opportunities for volunteers to assist us, not only in the care of objects, but also contribute to interpretation and help inform the public.


We are currently refurbishing one of the cottages on site, aiming to provide a comfortable and creative work space for our new collection care volunteers. We hope to start recruiting in May so if you're interested, I'll be posting more updates as the project continues to progress.

Preventive conservation and collection care. Our objects come in all shapes and sizes and range of materials.

Volunteer project. Rag rugs, from the collection, being used as inspiration to help recreate authentic rugs for the historic houses.

Some of the largest objects we care for at St.Fagans belong to the agricultural collection.