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Cymraeg

Archaeology

July 2009

Last day of the bell casting

Posted by Steve Burrow on 20 July 2009
Adding charcoal to the furnace
Andrew to the rescue!

Tim had almost ran out of charcoal when Andrew, the museum's blacksmith, found a spare sack at his smithy. It meant that the team could carry on raising the temperature of the fire around their last bell - set below the pile of charcoal burning in the centre of the pit.
Preparing the bell casting
You can never have too many people watching a really hot fire...
Inside a bell casting
A peek inside one of the bell castings.

This bell has only just come out of the fire, and although the clay coating looks cool enough, the inside is still red hot.

You can see the cracks in the coating - it was these which allowed the fire to penetrate and burn out some of the iron on the final bell.
Breaking the clay mould
Breaking the clay coating to reveal the bell inside.
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Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Tim Young’s attempts to replicate an Early Medieval church bell continued beside the Celtic Village today with the help of a team of volunteers who answered any questions that visitors to the museum had about the project.

It’s an industrial-sized operation, with gigantic bellows hanging from a wooden frame, and fire roaring from the furnace. Its aim was to coat a wrought iron bell with bronze in a process known as brazing. This involves encasing the bell, wrapped with strips of bronze, inside a clay mould and placing it in the fire. As the temperature rises the bronze melts and spreads over the surface of the bell giving it a fine, orange / yellow sheen.

Yesterday the problem was that the fire was too hot and the iron burnt out, today the problem was the exact opposite. Tim had two bells ready to go in their clay casings. Wary from yesterday’s experience he took one out a little early and the bronze hadn’t melted. Then it was a race against time to raise the temperature of the fire, while stocks of charcoal began to run low.

Thanks to vigorous bellow’s work, and some extra charcoal from Andrew Murphy, the museum’s blacksmith, the temperature was raised and the bronze melted on the final bell. Success! Partly. A crack in the side of the clay casing meant that part of the iron burnt away again, and some of the bronze escaped. Even so, Tim and his team have proved their approach works.

Better still, alongside the bell casting, they also tried to braze three Early Medieval iron strap slides which Andrew made based on an example from Llangorse, near Brecon. As you can see from the photographs, they had one great success, one partial success, and a near miss. With a little filing, the best of these should make a great display piece to set beside the original in the museum’s archaeology gallery.

Shadow puppets

Posted by Steve Burrow on 20 July 2009
Horsing around at the Shadow Puppet workshop.
Shadow puppets
And the view from the other side of the screen as an Iron Age warior tussles with Wales's mythical boar, the Twrch Trwyth.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Last Saturday, Sean Harris ran a Shadow Puppet workshop at National Museum Cardiff converting the main hall into an animation studio.

I wasn't able to go to the first day myself - which is why this posting is so late - but colleagues who were helping at the event took some photographs.

For those who missed it, but would like to join in the free family fun, the workshops continue ever day until 24 July.

Click here for details.

Animations and castings in the Celtic Village

Posted by Steve Burrow on 19 July 2009
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.
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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.

The Vicus in action

Posted by Steve Burrow on 18 July 2009
Britons and Romans fighting
Britons and Romans fight it out at Caerwent.
Britons, having defeated the might of Rome
Some times the good guys win...

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Just one day to go before the Festival of Archaeology starts at St Fagans, and I thought it would be good to give you a sneak preview of the group who will provide us with our grand finale on the 1st and 2nd of August: the Vicus.

Today they set up camp at Caerwent Roman town, demonstrating activities from Roman medicine to tablet weaving and basketry. Then, of course, there were the battles, as Britons met Romans in a fight to the not-so-bitter end.

When they visit us at St Fagans they’ll be staging a Roman cremation – an event not to be missed.

Cleaning the village

Posted by Steve Burrow on 16 July 2009
Cleaning the Celtic Village
During the Festival, staff at the museum are being helped by a group of volunteers who will ensure things run smoothly. Some have already made a start, helping with the cleaning up of the Celtic Village.
Contents of a roundhouse
Everything was cleared out of the roundhouses and given a belated spring clean.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Thousands of people visit the Celtic Village each month leaving little spare time for keeping up with the housework. Even worse, with summer in full swing everything is growing very very fast. Something had to be done!

With help from museum volunteers, extreme steps were taken. Everything was taken out of the roundhouses and cleaned. Outside the houses, vegetation was cut back, and the grounds were tidied. The result: two sparkling roundhouses.

Earlier in the year the third roundhouse became unstable and was taken down. Although sad in a way, this provided a great opportunity for a team from Reading University to excavate the ground upon which it had stood. So we learnt a lot from the controlled demolition of this house, but the work was not over. Piles of old thatch and soil still littered the Celtic Village, and these were cleared away by a team of United Nations' Association volunteers.

So the venue is ready, the events organised. Now we keep our fingers crossed for good weather.

Getting ready

Posted by Steve Burrow on 16 July 2009
Bronze casting
Preparations for the bell casting experiments to be held beside the Celtic Village at St Fagans from 19 - 21st July 2009.
Pouring molten bronze.
Casting a bronze ring.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

The Festival of British Archaeology kicks off in just three days and staff at St Fagans National History Museum, National Museum Cardiff, and the National Roman Legion Museum are hard at work.

From the 18th of July until the 2nd of August our museums will be hosting an amazing array of activities to celebrate archaeology, from opportunities to join Roman soldiers in the barrack room at Caerleon, to Shadow puppet workshops in Cardiff, and a recreation of a Roman funeral at St Fagans.

For a full list of all the events and activities at our museums visit our Festival of British Archaeology web page.

Over the coming weeks I'll be blogging as the festival progresses, so if you can't stay until the end of the bell casting experiments, or you have to leave before the bone flutes are finished, then read about what happened here.

Most of the time I'll be based around the Celtic Village at St Fagans National History Museum so most of my posts will concentrate on the events held here, but I'll try to include information about things going on at our other sites.