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July 2009

Pop Peth - Music & Me

Posted by Sian Lile-Pastore on 27 July 2009

The exhibition Pop Peth/ Music & Me opens this Saturday (although the official opening isn't until September).

Here are some pictures showing the set up of the exhibition featuring ladders and people with pencils in their mouths




Two great days at St Fagans

Posted by Mari Gordon on 25 July 2009
The walls of Ian's roundhouse after a day's painting.

Some great Iron Age designs, some fascinating interpretations.
Painting workshop
Painting workshops in St Teilo's Church.
Tillerman Beads
A crowd gathers at Mike and Su Poole begin another glass bead demonstration.
Tillerman Bead workshop
Andrew Murphy, blacksmith at St Fagans, tries his hand at making a glass bead.

Unsurprisingly, his first efforts were brilliant successes.
» View full post to see all images

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
Andrew at work
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.
Bell handle
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
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
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.

Helping with pottery sorting
Many hands make light work.

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


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
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.
» View full post to see all images

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.
» View full post to see all images

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.

  • National Museum Cardiff

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.