Moving the Bryn Celli Ddu stone
Moving the Bryn Celli Ddu stone from upper archaeology into its new home in the Origins exhibition.
Having moved most of the Early Christian Monuments to new homes already, we looked into the final stone – the Bryn Celli Ddu stone. This stone is from the Bryn Celli Ddu tomb (Anglesey) which is one of the best preserved passage tombs in Wales (for more information see this Rhagor article). We thought it was quite small, and shouldn't be too big a problem - we were wrong! It went right down to the floor, and was encased in a concrete block. We needed help. We called on Nigel Brake from Penybryn Engineering who had already helped us with the ECMs and has helped us many times with other specialised lifting, moving and metal work around the National Museum Cardiff.
Over the course of 10 days, we made a plan to remove the stone upwards out of its casing and onto a pallet for moving to the new gallery. In order to do that we needed to remove some ceiling tiles to create enough space above the stone. The lifting gear was brought in, curators and conservators watched anxiously as the stone was secured to the lifting gear and then removed from the concrete support. It was lifted clear and then carefully laid on a pallet. Jackie Chadwick, Archaeology Illustrator, took the opportunity to photograph and draw the stone in detail as it hadn't been seen in its entirety since 1979. Interestingly we made our own archaeological discovery: as the stone was removed we found evidence of a very different attitude to conservation – cigarette butts in the base of the stone meaning it most have been ok to smoke in the galleries then – unlike today!
Finally it was time to install the Bryn Celli Ddu stone in it's new support in the Origins Gallery. You'll be able to see it in all its glory when the exhibition opens in December.
Origins and Early Christian Monuments
Our Early Christian Monuments (ECMs) are stones that can tell us about individuals, their beliefs, burial practices, languages, art and technology from the past. Some of them are huge and very heavy which makes them difficult to move and install. We were helped by Nigel Brake from Penybryn Engineering and Chris Perry from our Industry Department. You can also see Dr. Mark Redknap (Medievalist) from our Archaeology Department helping with the ECMs and ensuring their safety as they are being installed. It's nice to see people are willing to get stuck in and help!
An 'A' frame is used to raise and lower the ECMs. This is the frame from which the winch is hung to support the ECM and lift it up. The ECMs have got inscriptions on them from Early Medieval times that we can't scratch or damage so great care must be taken over moving them. Special steel supports have been made for the larger stones allowing them to be held firmly in place.
New gallery installation - Origins: in Search of Early Wales
Before the contractors arrive on site our temporary exhibitions gallery looks almost empty. We used to use this gallery to hold large exhibitions at National Museum Cardiff and are now redisplaying and reinterpreting our Archaeology collections here in a new exhibition called 'Origins; in Search of Early Wales'.
We've installed some Early Christian monuments (ECMs) already and some are lying on pallets waiting for more action to take place. Dysons are the contractors responsible for creating the new exhibition space prior to us installing all the objects to bring it to life. They are due on site shortly to begin the construction in earnest.
The cases are from a previous Archaeology exhibition we did in partnership with the British Museum and others called 'Buried Treasure' about archaeological treasures from our collections and how they were found. We've had them refurbished and recycled for this exhibition to complement new ones we've bought especially for the new Origins gallery. The heavy steel bases and supports for the ECMs look good enough to be in the display themselves, but there are other plans for the finished look. The floor is protected in areas so the installation of the steel bases and ECMs does not scratch it. The ECMs weigh up to 2 tonnes each so moving them is a serious business involving heavy lifting gear, engineers, curators and conservators.