A Journey from the Amazon to Natural Selection
Continuing our celebration of the life of Alfred Russel Wallace...
We welcomed over 300 A-level students to National Museum Cardiff for this special event in partnership with Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.
At the invitation of Prof Dianne Edwards F.R.S, Prof Steve Jones F.R.S gave a talk entitled ‘Is man just another animal?’
Prof Jones discussed our shared ancestry with other primates, the genetic evidence for human evolution, and cast light on Wallace and Darwin’s different views on the subject. Professor Steve Jones is Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London and an author of several popular science books.
And Theatr na nÓg gave an excellent performance of their play ‘You Should Ask Wallace’.
The play took us through Wallace’s life as a young boy growing up in Wales to embarking on epic adventures to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago where he discovers the theory of evolution. His great findings would compel Darwin to publish his seminal work on the origin of species.
An exhibition on Wallace’s life will open on 19 October at National Museum Cardiff.
Walking in the footsteps of Wallace
Last week Museum staff and students from Cantonian High School journeyed to the Neath Valley to explore the life of Alfred Russel Wallace.
We spent a day re-tracing his footsteps from Pontneddfechan up to Sgwd Gwladys waterfall, exploring the geology and biology of the walk, with help from experts from the Natural Sciences department.
On his death 100 years ago, Alfred Russel Wallace was widely praised as the 'last of the great Victorians'. Famous for independently discovering the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin, today few remember this great Welsh scientist.
Wallace was inspired by the landscape of south Wales, and spent many years walking the valleys and mapping the natural history. The student’s photographs, video footage, sketches and interviews will become part of a display at National Museum Cardiff in January 2014. This display aims to tell the story of Wallace in Wales and hopefully inspire others to go and explore for themselves.
This project has been made possible thanks to the generous support of a Life Patron of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.
An exhibition on Wallace’s life will open on 19 October at National Museum Cardiff.
The Fern Paradise
A lovely pressed fern found between the pages of The Fern Paradise  by Francis George Heath. I'm always a little disappointed that we don't find more pressed flowers in our old botany books so this really made my day.
How long has it been lying quietly cocooned between these dry secure pages? Who picked a live and vibrant frond one summers day and slipped it away never thinking it would stay hidden for decades? Did the sun shine that afternooon? What news was ringing around the world? So many questions...
All photographs in this post taken by the author
Beachwatch 2013 - a great success
On Saturday 21st September Amgueddfa Cymru ran their annual Beachwatch event. This involved fantastic family science activities in the morning attended by 41 members of the public and seven members of staff. Participants looked at strandline and rockpool animals and seaweeds as well as fossilised corals and snails. Inspired by the fossils and shells that they had seen, the children went on to create wonderful pieces of artwork using Plaster of Paris on the wet sand of the beach.
After lunch, the volunteers gathered to clean the beach and do a litter survey recording all the items they found. The beach clean was attended by 59 volunteers including many of the families from the morning activities.
The results will be sent to the Marine Conservation Society who will collect the data from this beach and hundreds of other UK beaches that were cleaned this weekend. As well as making the beach safer for people and marine life, the Marine Conservation Society also use the data to find out where beach litter comes from and contribute to marine conservation.
As you can see from the photo we found a lot of rubbish including 9 tyres, half a canoe and a traffic cone! A huge thank you to our wonderful volunteers, Ogmore Beach now looks even more beautiful!
3 days to Beachwatch!
BEATCHWATCH – Saturday 21 September
10.30am – 12pm. Amgueddfa Cymru staff will be running fun family activities for the public to help them learn about the biology and geology of Ogmore beach. They will be looking at rock pools, strandlines, rocks and fossils along the shore.This year we will also have a fun ART activity involving plaster of paris and seashells. These morning activities are now fully booked, but you can still come along in the afternnoon to help out with the beach clean.
1pm – 2.30pm. Help with the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean (Open to all).
Where: Ogmore Beach, Vale of Glamorgan. Meeting on the beach at Ogmore beach car park – down the ramp in front of the lifeguard centre.
Suitable for all ages, hope to see you there.
A species new to science!
A new species of marine bristleworm (polychaete) has just been described in a collaboration between Amgueddfa Cymru and the East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Shanghai. The species is a type of shovelhead worm, a group that get their name from the flattened head region used to burrow within sand. The new species was discovered in the Jiangsu Province of the Yellow Sea. The new species is called Magelona parochilis Zhou & Mortimer, 2013 and was published this month in the scientific publication, The Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
Kunstformen der Natur
Step into a wonderland of colour, a celebration of the natural world in all its artistic and symmetrical glory...
Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was an eminent German zoologist who specialized in invertebrate anatomy. He named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many now ubiquitous terms in biology. A popularizer of Charles Darwin, Haeckel embraced evolution not only as a scientific theory, but as a worldview. He outlined a new religion or philosophy called monism, which cast evolution as a cosmic force, a manifestation of the creative energy of nature.
Haeckel’s chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including the development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur - Art Forms of Nature, a collection of 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations (lithographic and autotype) of animals and sea creatures prints. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904, and as a complete volume in 1904.
The overriding themes of the Kunstformenplates are symmetry and organization, central aspects of Haeckel's monism. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.
Kunstformen der Natur played a role in the development of early twentieth century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé.
Our copy of Kunstformen der Natur [photographed here] is a complete bound volume of all ten fascicules and sits in our folio section. It was donated to us in 1919 by the first Director of the National Museum of Wales [from 1909 to 1924], William Evans Hoyle. Hoyle’s trained as a medical anatomist and developed a life long interest in 'cephalopods'. Our BioSyB Department now holds Hoyle's cephalopod collection [over 400 of them] along with many other specimens and publications.
Haeckel biographical information:
Hoyle biographical information:
All photographs in this post taken by the author.
The Ghost Orchid
The Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum is an extremely rare species found in a very small number of sites within the UK. The plant feeds by parasitising fungi, rather than through photosynthesis and as a result is largely colourless, hence its name. It was deemed extinct in 2005 but a new specimen was found in 2009 and was later collected after being eaten through by a slug. The National Museum Wales Herbarium has seven specimens of this orchid, five courtesy of marauding slugs.
The specimen pictured was also cut down by a slug but this is even more rare, because of the way it has been preserved. This specimen was collected in 1982 and placed into a solution of formalin. The specimen arrived on my desk last week and I have since provided new labels, a new jar and it is now in a new preserving fluid of 10% DMDM Hydantoin and 0.5% glycerol increase its longevity and improve visual clarity. By preserving this specimen in fluid its 3 dimensional morphology is clearly demonstrated and the fluid gives it an even more ghostly appearance.
Dr Victoria Purewal, Botanical Conservation Officer
Celebrating the tercentenary of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792)
In 2013 the tercentenary of the birth of the Third Earl of Bute is being celebrated across Britain with a series of events and new publications. Curators from Amgueddfa Cymru have contributed to a special publication published by Friends of the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, at one of Bute’s former residencies. Maureen Lazarus will also give a lecture at Luton Hoo in the autumn.
Bute was a powerful figure in eighteenth century Britain, both as a politician and as a botanist. He was a friend and confidante of George III who encouraged him to become a politician. In May 1762 he became Prime Minister. However, Bute proved an unpopular leader. Bishop Warburton wrote at the time “Lord Bute is a very unfit man to be Prime Minister of England, first, he is a Scotchman; secondly, he is the King’s friend; and thirdly he is an honest man.”
After a year of political turmoil and dissention, Bute resigned his post. He retired from public life to his house at Highcliffe in Hampshire with his vast botanical library. Here he rekindled his former enthusiasm for botany. Bute worked on several botanical publications and was strongly influenced by the renowned Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. Bute’s best known publication is entitled Botanical Tables containing the different familys of British Plants distinguished by a few obvious parts of Fructification rang’d in a Synoptical method (1785). Its aim is to explain the principles of Linnaeus’s new and controversial taxonomic system. Angueddfa Cymru is fortunate to own a complete set of this rare and exquisite publication.
John Miller (1715-1790) became the main artist of the Botanical tables, a huge task of over 600 illustrations detailing the sexual organs and their number to comply with the Linnaean system. The volumes cover the whole range of plant life from mosses, lichens and seaweeds to fungi and grasses, flowers and trees. Twelve copies of the Tables (each consisting of 9 volumes) were printed by Lord Bute at his own expense at a cost of £1,000.
In his retirement, Bute was quite isolated. He was closer to European rather than British botanists, perhaps partly as a result of his travels on the continent but probably partly due to his unpopularity in Britain. Curiously, he was never elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London or of the Society of Antiquaries, something which his role as a patron alone ought to have virtually assured him. In spite of this rejection, botany was, no doubt, a satisfying way for him to spend his time in later life in order to avoid the melancholy he referred to in the introduction to Botanical tables.
Bute was particularly keen to explain the taxonomic system to women since he felt that this “delightful part of nature” was peculiarly suited to the attention of the fair sex. Botany, under their protection, would soon become a fashionable amusement. True to this aim Bute presented seven out of the ten copies to women including Queen Charlotte and Catherine II, Empress of Russia.
In 1994 Amgueddfa Cymru acquired a complete copy of the Botanical tables. The curators of the collection, as part of their background research, decided to trace all 12 copies. So far ten sets have been traced, seven of which can be identified with their original recipients. Full details of this project may be found in this paper; Lazarus, M.H. and Pardoe, H.S. (2009) Bute’s Botanical tables: dictated by Nature. Archives of natural history 36 (2): 277–298.
Heather Pardoe and Maureen Lazarus
Beans on Toast
3 primary schools took part in activities exploring the new Beans on Toast exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff last week.
Pupils from Windsor Clive Primary School, Trelai Primary School and Ysgol Wirfoddol Abergwili explored where in the world our food comes from and how we can make sustainable choices about the food we buy. They then worked with an artist to create a 'World Food Stall' display to encourage discussion on the issues of food security back in school.
Funding was received to work with the artist through the British Ecological Society.
The exhibition will be open until 29 September 2013. Contact the Learning Department 029 2057 3240 if you would like to take part in future activities.