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Festival of British Archaeology

July 2009

Look above: look within

Posted by Steve Burrow on 30 July 2009

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The growing queue beside the big red banner that advertised the event.

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Sue demonstrating the total station.

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Geoff introducing some visitors to building survey.

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A chance to look at some of the Royal Commission's older survey equipment.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

On Wednesday and Thursday this week (29th and 30th July) Sue Fielding and Geoff Ward from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales demonstrated building recording at St Fagans. Thanks to them, visitors had the chance to record a 500 year old house, Hendre’r Ywydd Uchaf, which once stood near Ruthin in the Vale of Clwyd.

I couldn't get to the event myself,  but Adam Gwilt who helped organise things sent in this report.


"Geoff has been getting people to look more carefully at the way the house was built and showing young and old alike how to measure and draw the exposed timbers of a wall partition inside the house.

Sue has been enlisting the help of people, using the ‘total station’ survey equipment. Using a laser beam to record the dimensions and details of one of the rooms, a 3D drawing of the room has grown in front of our eyes on the laptop computer screen. 

On Wednesday, the stream of people was slow but constant, though the torrential rain all day affected the numbers of visitors. After early showers on Thursday, the much improved weather brought people to us in significant numbers, at times queuing to enter the house to see what was going on! 

We used a red flag banner to let visitors know that something was going on in this house in the large museum grounds, while the additional building trail developed for the Festival has helped some children to hunt for evidence relating to the long use of this building.

The event was a great success with Sue commenting: ‘Many children have really enjoyed using our new survey equipment to generate an immediate visual and digital drawing of this historic house. I was really pleased that the Royal Commission was asked to contribute to the Festival events hosted by the national museum.’ "

Sally conjuring colours

Posted by Steve Burrow on 29 July 2009

[image: Dyeing wool]

Sally at work in the roundhouse, dyeing wool.

[image: Natural dyes]

Just one of the amazing colours that Sally produced during the course of the day. All from natural dyes.

[image: Colourful wool]

The full range of colours.

[image: Drop spinning]

Sally demonstrating drop spinning.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

More photos from finished events... This time Sally demonstrating dyeing with natural dyes.

The orange comes from madder, the yellow from weld, blue from woad, and green is a mix of woad and weld.

The magic flute

Posted by Steve Burrow on 29 July 2009

[image: Making a bone flute]

Gareth at work on the bone flutes in the Celtic Village.

[image: The replica flutes]

The finished flutes.

The lower of the two is Gareth's replica of the possible Neolithic flute from Penywyrlod.

The topmost one is his replica of the White Castle medieval flute.

[image: Sally and whistle]

Sally getting a note from the replica Penywyrlod whistle.

I haven't had the chance to catch up with her to see whether she thought this would actually have been a viable instrument.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

A few photos from last weekend's "Magic flute" event in which Gareth Riseborough tried to make replicas of a medieval and a possible Neolithic flute.

He was successful in both projects. The medieval flute plays very well and looks fantastic. The Neolithic whistle looks the piece, but is very difficult to play - no fault of Gareth's there, the reason he was trying to replicate the original was to see whether it was actually a whistle, or whether it might have been simply a dog-chewed bone.

Colourful Pasts

Posted by Ian Daniel on 28 July 2009

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Thanks to everyone who joined us last weekend and took part in the activities at the Celtic Village and St Teilo’s Church. My roundhouse has never been so colourful! The walls look amazing, full of your wonderful artwork. Many of you also joined Tracey and Nia in St Teilo’s Church and had a go at re-creating the wall paintings there. If you missed the activities then remember the Festival of British Archaeology continues here this weekend, 1-2 August.

Two great days at St Fagans

Posted by Mari Gordon on 25 July 2009

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The walls of Ian's roundhouse after a day's painting.

Some great Iron Age designs, some fascinating interpretations.

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Painting workshops in St Teilo's Church.

[image: Tillerman Beads]

A crowd gathers at Mike and Su Poole begin another glass bead demonstration.

[image: Tillerman Bead workshop]

Andrew Murphy, blacksmith at St Fagans, tries his hand at making a glass bead.

Unsurprisingly, his first efforts were brilliant successes.

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Festival of British Archaeology 2009

It’s been a busy two days at the Festival. Yesterday started badly with torrential rain, but by midday the clouds cleared and St Fagans filled up with visitors.

It was the first day of the Magic Flute event in which Gareth Riseborough began a project to make replicas of a medieval and a possible Neolithic flute, both found in Wales. The original medieval flute was made from the foreleg of a large deer, and Gareth has sourced the correct bone for the project. He set up shop in the smaller of the roundhouses in the Celtic Village, and much of the morning was spent trimming down the bone, and answering a near continuous stream of questions from interested visitors.

Sally Pointer, manager of the museum’s Glanely Gallery, worked alongside him demonstrating natural dyeing techniques and proving that people in the past wore clothes which were just as colourful as we have today. The grand finale of her demonstrations was the magical transformation that occurs when woad-dyed wool is removed from the dye pot, turning blue before your eyes. Fabulous.

In the roundhouse next door Ian Daniel, interpreter in the Celtic Village, ran wall painting workshops. Tired of the house’s plain white walls, Ian had decided to enlist the public’s help in transforming them with Celtic designs drawn from a portfolio compiled by museum conservator and Iron Age art specialist Mary Davis. By the end of the day dozens of children had covered every spare inch of white wall with an amazing array of designs – all painted with natural pigments.

There was so much going on in the village that I didn’t have a chance to get over to St Teilo’s Church where another team was running painting workshops of a different kind. But I made up for it with a few trips over there today to catch up on what was going on.

The painting activity proved extremely popular, with some children staying for over an hour while they created designs and learnt how these would have been transferred onto the walls of the church. Meanwhile for the adults there was the chance to hear museum conservator and pigment expert Penny Hill explain how medieval craftsmen had produced the original paintings at St Teilo's, and the lengths to which the museum has gone to ensure our reproductions are faithful to their work.

A highlight of the day for me was the chance to see Tillerman Beads at work producing Iron Age glass beads in their tent outside the Celtic Village. This was a real eye-opener and a good deal of time was spent in awe of Mike Poole as he created one amazing design after another. The crowds loved it too, with Su Poole providing expert commentary on the work, and explaining the history of glass beads using the incredible selection she had on display.

Tomorrow, Tillerman Beads continue their demonstrations, Gareth and Sally are back with their magic flute and dyeing events, Ian continues to enlist the support of budding artists to paint the inside of his roundhouse, and the team in the church will be back with more talks and painting workshops. Enough to ensure a good day out for all.

Andrew continues the bell making experiments

Posted by Steve Burrow on 23 July 2009

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Andrew at work on the bell's handle.

In the foreground you can see one of the earlier bell attempts, and to its right, a sheet or wrought iron cut to shape. This sheet will form the body of another bell later on in the series of experiments.

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A partly finished bell handle, and a rod, ready to be worked into shape.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

On Tuesday, Andrew Murphy, blacksmith at St Fagans continued the challenge to make a replica of an early medieval bell, begun by Tim Young earlier in the week. While Tim, had worked on brazing the body of the bell, Andrew worked on the handle. This is a loop which passes into the bell so it can be held from the top, while the bell’s clapper hangs from a hook inside.

Andrew had several attempts at replicating the shape of the original bell’s handle over the course of the day, with each attempt getting closer to the form we were after, and the event was enjoyed by the public throughout the day.

Pottery sorting workshops

Posted by Steve Burrow on 23 July 2009

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Joining sherds from the Llandaff Cathedral School excavations.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Sian, who ran yesterday's pottery sorting workshop at National Museum Cardiff, sent me a photograph of some of the joining sherds they found among the mass of material from the Llandaff Cathedral School excavations (see earlier post for background).

They may not look like much, but by reconstructing these broken pots it's possible to work out what type of vessel they were once part of, what that vessel might have been used for, and sometimes when the pot was made. So, important stuff.

And how did we find these joining pieces from among the many hundred sherd jigsaw puzzle that came from the excavation?  We enlisted the help of dozens of sharp-eyed museum visitors who were willing to spend some time, sorting, grouping, and fitting pieces together.

For visitors it was an interesting way to pass some time, for us it was an opportunity to make sense of the finds from an important site.

Piecing together the past

Posted by Chris Owen on 21 July 2009

[image: Pottery sorting in the main hall]

Pottery sorting and shadow puppetry in the main hall of National Museum Cardiff.

I took this photograph at the end of the day when things were quietening down. At its busiest you couldn't have squeezed another person around the tables.

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Many hands make light work.

Just one of the dozens of people who took time out their day to help us sort the pottery.

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Not just an event for children...

People of all ages lent their support during the course of the day.

Festival of British Archaeology 2009

Today’s events at National Museum Cardiff were Shadow Puppetry and Pottery Sorting.

I won’t write too much about the Shadow Puppet workshops because I covered these in a previous post – suffice it to say that they continued to be hugely popular with children, a fact demonstrated by the quantity of cut up paper and bits and bobs left behind when the crowds finally cleared.

The Pottery Sorting was a new thing though. Here, visitors were helping museum staff with the real business of archaeology. Back in 2002, an excavation was carried out at Llandaff Cathedral School in Cardiff and a very large quantity of 13th and 14th-century pottery was found. This was all brought back to the museum and staff have slowly been sorting it out. But there are only so many hours in a day and this is an awful lot of pottery so, as part of last year’s National Archaeology Week, we asked the public to help us make sense of it all. The event was so popular – and we still had so much pottery left over – that we ran it again this year.

So, with the help of about a hundred children and adults, Sian and Louise from the museum’s archaeology department spent today sorting the broken pottery into different types: glazed and unglazed, rims, bases and decorated pieces.

It proved to be a surprisingly addictive activity, with one girl staying to help out for over an hour, and a visiting Californian potter finding herself drawn into the challenge of grouping the sherds, and trying to track down elusive joins between pieces. Sadly, no joining pieces were found but, as Sian said: “there’s always tomorrow”.

And tomorrow the team will be joined by Mark Redknap, the museum’s medievalist who will be helping to make sense of it all.

Animations in a roundhouse

Posted by Ian Daniel on 21 July 2009

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Visitors have flocked to the Celtic Village over the last couple of days to join with us in celebrating the Festival of British Archaeology. For me so far there have been several highlights. On Sunday people found shelter from the rain in the stone roundhouse, where in the dark the artist Sean Harris projected his animation film Dadeni onto the earth beaten floor. People are used to experiencing animations on TV, computers or in a cinema. Such an experience proved moving, eerie and played upon the senses. The moving images evoked past mythologies. You almost felt as if you had gathered with the ancestors around a warm fire and cauldron to share their stories, safe from the rain.


Tim Young and his team built a forge outside the Village. Their experiments in recreating the lost art of making Early Christian handbells drew the crowd. Tim felt, ‘It was a successful weekend. We were trying to understand the technique not to produce a finished product. If we were going to do this for ten day's solid we'd be getting it right completely by the end. As it is we've cracked how to do the hearth - that's great, I like it - but we need to build on it.’


Mark Rednapp, from the archaeology department here, was with them. I asked him about his thoughts, ‘The wonderful thing about experimental archaeology is that you leap from one idea to the next, one experiment to the next. Many things have passed through my mind: the skill needed to judge the temperature and timing, the amount of manual labour involved in keeping the bellows going, which remind us of early medieval slavery, but also of the apprenticeships learning from an early age by experience.’


The Festival continues until 2nd of August. Come and join my workshops ‘Colouring the past’ in the Celtic Village this weekend, the 25th and 26th of July.

Last day of the bell casting

Posted by Steve Burrow on 20 July 2009

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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.

[image: Preparing the bell casting]

You can never have too many people watching a really hot fire...

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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.

[image: 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.

  • National Museum Cardiff

    [image: National Museum Cardiff]

    Discover art, natural history and geology. With a busy programme of exhibitions and events, we have something to amaze everyone, whatever your interest – and admission is free!

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    [image: St Fagans]

    St Fagans is one of Europe's foremost open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction.

  • Big Pit National Coal Museum

    [image: Big Pit]

    Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out.

  • National Wool Museum

    [image: National Wool Museum]

    Located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, the Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.

  • National Roman Legion Museum

    [image: National Roman Legion Museum]

    In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. Today at the National Roman Legion Museum you can learn what made the Romans a formidable force and how life wouldn't be the same without them.

  • National Slate Museum

    [image: National Slate Museum]

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    [image: National Waterfront Museum]

    The National Waterfront Museum at Swansea tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales, now and over the last 300 years.

  • Rhagor: Explore our collections

    Rhagor (Welsh for ‘more’) offers unprecedented access to the amazing stories that lie behind our collections.