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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.

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!

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.

We’re in the process of preparing objects to go on display in the new galleries that are being built on the site of St Fagans.  #makinghistory  

As the textile conservator, I have come across three objects that, though they are kept in the textile store, are not exclusively made of textile but have paper components and have botanical specimens attached, neither of which come under my area of expertise.  Hence, I’ve roped in my two colleagues, the  Senior Conservator Archives and the Senior Conservator Natural Sciences and the three of us will now jointly treat these objects. 

Joint projects are always a great opportunity for sharing skills and learning from colleagues so we’re all really looking forward to this!