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September 2012

Open Doors: A Tour of St Teilo's Original Wall-paintings

Posted by Sara Huws on 19 September 2012

We have a limited amount of places left on a very special event - and I thought I'd give you loyal readers first dibs!


I will be taking a small group behind the scenes to look at some very fragile, very rare fragments of Tudor-era wall-paintings. Painted around 1500, they were moved to the museum when we moved St Teilo's Church from Pontarddulais. You can see replicas of these paintings on the walls of the reconstructed church today. If you've ever wondered what the originals look like, then this is the workshop for you!


A few have been on display in the past, but this tour will provide unprecedented access to the paintings in their dormant state, as well as a chance to learn how, and why, we removed them.


The tour takes place on the 25th of September. The morning session will look at St Teilo's as it stands today, running from 11:00 to 13:00. The afternoon session will take you into the stores, and will take place between 14:00 and 16:00. Numbers are very limited so booking is essential. Phone (029) 20 57 35 29 to claim your place!

It's been a long wet summer and our snow has disappeared!

Posted by Julian Carter on 17 September 2012
The damaged snow before restoration.
Annette clearing away the old fabric.
Vicky attaching the new fabric layers.

It has to be said that the summer of 2012 was a particularly wet one and the visitor figures shot up as families sought a warm dry haven in our galleries at Cathays Park. The more visitors the better, but the increased footfall presents a challenge for the Natural History Conservation Team as we try to keep up with the wear and tear on the galleries. We know it’s very tempting for the younger visitors to touch the open dioramas and our sparkly snow seems to attract them most of all, but as the summer progressed and the small hands reached out, our scenery started to disappear before our eyes!

So on a quiet Monday in September when the gallery was closed we decided to clean and freshen up the display. We started by clearing away the damaged areas, then laying fresh fabric over the top. The fabric that we use to replicate the snow is thin upholstery wadding which gives a fluffy appearance when applied in layers. It’s easy to shape over the polystyrene base and around the rocks. When we’ve got the layers in the right position we use a spray adhesive to stick it down. The finishing touches are our favourite part of the job because we get to sprinkle handfuls of fake snow flakes and sparkly glitter over the top of the wadding. This gives the snow a freshly fallen look and the glitter sparkles as you walk around the display. For now the scene is looking fresh and crisp again, let’s see how long we can make it last!     

Return of the Vikings? 8th September

Posted by Julie Taylor on 11 September 2012
A table is set up in a barn. It holds a light, laptop and various finds. Some are stones, marked with a finds label. Others are in labelled bags. Some bags have been put into boxes to give them extra protection. The boxes are labelled glass, copper alloy,
The finds hut, where this blog was written. Boxes contain individually bagged finds, boxed by type - pottery, lead, copper alloy, etc. Other bags are still being processed. The large stones are possibly building materials.
Two students sit on upturned crates each with a bowl of water in front of them. They use toothbrushes to clean pieces of animal bone ready for analysis
Washing animal bone. The students use toothbrushes and soft wooden sticks to carefully remove soil.
Ten seed trays contain varying amounts of cleaned animal bone. A white waterproof label attached to each tray describes exactly where the bone was found
Animal bone finds drying in the sun. If there was any sun! The trays are labelled according to the 3D location ("context") of the finds
» View full post to see all images


In the past week finds processing started in earnest, as stratified deposits were by then being dug across most of the site. In the first two weeks keeping on top of the objects coming from the site had only been a part time job: listing and packing the individual metal, pottery and glass finds that had been turning up. With the serious digging of stratified deposits, however, animal bone worth keeping for further study, started to emerge in considerable quantity. The midden (spread of dumped rubbish) in the main trench (Trench AG) was also being systematically sampled, producing tubs of soil needing processing. 


The animal bone and the soil samples form the two main strands of the finds processing going on site. The animal bone needs washing and drying before it can be bagged up for future study: when it will hopefully give insights into the diet and farming methods of the inhabitants of the site. 











The soil samples are processed in a flotation tank. A sample, held in a fine mesh, has water pumped up through it from below while being agitated and broken up by the hands of the operator. The flow of the water carries off light, organic, components (charcoal, grain, seeds and other plant remains), which is collected in a very fine mesh sieve. Meanwhile the bulk of the soil drops through the mesh into the bottom of the tank leaving the coarse residue of the sample in the mesh. This is mostly small fragments of stone but will hopefully also contain small animal and fish bones that would not otherwise get found. Both the material floated off and the coarse residues are then left to dry and bagged up for later sorting.

 Evan Chapman

Return of the Vikings? 5th September

Posted by Julie Taylor on 5 September 2012
In the trench, a wall of limestone blocks is seen. A change in soil texture and colour in the cut of the trench reveals a cross-section of the early medieval ditch. Labels mark significant finds
Cross section showing ditch and wall
Four students use mattocks and shovels to remove the topsoil. Trowels will be used once archaeology is reached
Extending trench AH
A long, narrow trench. A student uses a trowel to define the edge of one of two early-medieval defensive ditches which cross the trench, visible by changes in soil texture and colour. Another student mattocks away excess topsoil from the other ditch
Ditches in trench AI
Half of a copper alloy penannular brooch. The square terminal is decorated in a dot pattern. The other half would have mirrored this fragment, forming an incomplete circle. A long pin would have hung from the circle to complete the fastening
Half of a copper alloy penannular brooch. The pin is missing. The other half would have mirrored this section; the break is at the top of the brooch as viewed here.

The teams in our three trenches have made excellent progress. In the main trench (AG), the full width of the stone enclosure wall has been revealed, and today we were able to identify a buried ground surface beneath (pre-dating)  the wall, as well as upcast from the cutting of the early medieval ditch. In the north-east of the trench, a gully has been identified which formed one side of a small enclosure within the walls. This appears to have been a drip gully and drainage ditch around a timber building.


We have decided to extend our small square trench (AH) in the light of the human remains found a few days ago. This trench was sited to establish whether further burials existed in this part of the site, and the discovery promises to add significantly to our understanding of this episode of the site’s history.  The crouched burial identified so far has only been partially uncovered (top of skull and femur), but it is clear that these articulated bones represent an addition to the small group of five bodies buried outside the defensive wall of the site during the second half of the tenth century.



In our narrow slit trench (AI) on the north-east side of the early medieval enclosure, the team has defined the edges on the inner and outer edges of the two defensive ditches, and a possible prehistoric feature at one end.









One of the more significant finds made so far is the hoop and decorated terminal of a  copper-alloy penannular brooch. This is reminiscent of one found in the ninth- century Trewhiddle hoard. The midden deposits within trench AG continue to produce copious quantities of animal bone (important for our understanding of husbandry and diet), as well as ironwork.

Mark Redknap

Return of the Vikings? 3rd September

Posted by Julie Taylor on 4 September 2012
Exploring features in the main trench
An excited team gather to view a human bone as it starts to emerge from the soil
First glimpse of a burial
A thigh bone, several hundred years old, buried in the soil. Other bones are starting to emerge to its left
The long thigh bone (right)

After two weeks of hard work by all the team to remove ploughsoil, and backfill from previous years’ excavation, the archaeological remains are finally being examined in detail. 

Today, one discovery brought the entire site to a halt, bringing everyone to gather around one of the smaller exploratory trenches opened last week.  Following clearing rubble from the upper fill of the enclosure ditch, the longbone of a burial was found on the western side of the enclosure ditch.  It is hoped that this exciting discovery will provide more information relating to a group of five skeletons previously found immediately to the south during the excavation seasons of 1998 and 1999. 

Weather conditions on site are currently excellent for the detection of archaeological features.  This is exemplified by the discovery of a several archaeological features within an area previously excavated in 1998 at the east end of the main trench.  Some of these features were previously known from the earlier season, but remained unexcavated because of a lack of time. 

Elsewhere in the main trench, the team has uncovered more of the enclosure wall defining the western boundary of the site, and have also begun the excavation of a slot through the enclosure ditch adjacent to that wall.  Exploratory slots placed through midden deposits at the east end of the trench are finding animal bones in large quantities, which will provide valuable dietary information about the inhabitants of the site. 

These tantalising glimpses into the archaeology of the site are getting everyone very excited, and we look forwards to seeing what new discoveries await us during the next two weeks.

Tudur Burke Davies

Return of the Vikings? Friday 31st August

Posted by Julie Taylor on 4 September 2012
Two archaeologists use trowels to gently uncover archaeology. Assistants remove the waste
The trowelling begins
Changes in soil colour show two ditches crossing this trench
Changes in soil colour show two ditches crossing this trench

Today started very pleasantly with sun and light winds, although became overcast by lunchtime, but thankfully still dry. The muddy remains of the deluges of previous days are now largely cleared away from site surfaces and we are down to midden layers across most of the main trench. The trench has now been allotted various sample areas to provide detailed insights into the midden layers, which are getting blacker as we go down through them. The main enclosure ditch where it crosses through this trench has been cross-sectioned, with a grey charcoal-flecked soil filling its upper layer. At the other end of the trench, not far from the spring and pool at the centre of the enclosure, the location of a single, important human burial found deep under the midden in a previous season (2001) is being explored and the backfill of the old trench above it is being removed.

Two smaller trenches are revealing details of the enclosure defences and ditches. One on the western side shows an interesting stepped profile to the ditch, almost as if those digging it were progressively deepening it as it crossed over the limestone scarp. Another long, narrow trench on the north-eastern side of the enclosure was started two days ago to test a possible double-ditch type anomaly which was noticed on the geophysics. This has proved to be correct, with two ditches crossing this trench. Work is now under way to establish their depth and extent, and hopefully to clarify whether one is earlier than the other.   

Today is my last day on site as I am only able to supervise for the first half of the four week excavation season. It has been an extremely enjoyable and nostalgic return for me to dig on a favourite site with old friends, having been part of the site team here in the 1996-99 seasons. The weather this time has been less than brilliant, but we have had quite a few nice days amidst the rainy ones, and the forecast is now good. The student team (from Cardiff and Bangor universities) is excellent, at least as good as any we have had in previous seasons. I strongly suspect the most interesting discoveries of this season will now occur in the next two weeks! I will be watching this blog with interest.


New Media, New Challenges

Posted by Graham Davies on 3 September 2012
View of Margam House, Glamorgan, looking North
View of Margam House, Glamorgan, looking North
View of Margam House, Glamorgan, looking South
View of Margam House, Glamorgan, looking South
An example of the original 1800 wide image served to an iPad3
An example of the original 1800 wide image served to an iPad3
And the same 1800 pixel wide image viewed through my desktop browser (notice the sharper resolution)
And the same 1800 pixel wide image viewed through my desktop browser (notice the sharper resolution)
» View full post to see all images

Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Earlier this year I was approached by the Keeper of Art regarding a recent acquisition of two oil paintings dating from 1700. The paintings in question - two large panoramic paintings of Margam House - were purchased with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund, and as the funding included some form of digital exploration, I was asked to produce an interactive to compliment the gallery display (that would also be available to tour with the paintings).

On closer inspection of the paintings, lot of small, intricate detail became noticeable.  As some details were very small - and would benefit from additional interpretation - some sort of zoomable image would offer the visitors with the best form of digital exploration.

In previous gallery interactive developments, the New Media Department have used the iPad2 platform, but as the newer iPad3 has a retina display - a screen resolution and pixel density so high that a person is unable to discern the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance - this platform seemed ideal to explore small detail in high resolution images. As for the software, we decided to use an adaptation of a previously developed interactive that allowed the user to move around a high-resolution image to predetermined hotspots (to explain certain details of the painting).

I then went about locating numerous details on the canvas that would be interesting and informative to the viewer. I was keen to pick things out that would not be contained on the gallery labels, thus ensuring no duplication and offering an enhanced visitor experience.

Resolution issues

After obtaining high-resolution images of the two paintings I was able to upload these to our Content Management System (amgeuddfacms), to allow them to be served from our website server. It was at this point that a strange technical inconsistency occurred....

Viewing 3800?pixel wide image on a standard Firefox browser on my desktop screen rendered the image sharp and clear. However, serving the exact same image into the iPad3 web browser rendered a fuzzy pixelated image. Given that the same image was being served to both screens it seemed that the different web browsers were handling the image in a different way.

A little bit of research on the internet revealed the possible problem: The default web browser on an iPad (Safari), runs WebKit which only seems to serve images up to a maximum size (somewhere around 1024 pixels wide). The iPad browser seemed to be downsampling the original 3800 wide image to 1024 wide, before then upscaling this 1024 wide image back up to 3800, causing the image to render at almost 400% it's downsampled 1024 pixel size.

The problem was how to get around this. After some researching on the internet for similar problems, it seemed that there was no conclusive solution. This was mainly due to the logical assumption that it’s bad practice to serve huge images to a website (especially on a mobile device such as an iPad, where web content was readily downloaded via mobile networks), so the advice was always to use small images. Of course we wanted very large images, so this didn’t help!

One solution that Chris Owen, our Web Manager came up with was to serve two halves of the image separately and automatically stitch them back together again after they loaded on the web page  - thus the page would load two smaller images. Technically this gave a good result, but cutting the image in half was not enough. We therefore generated a script that sliced the image into 500 by 500 pixels (totaling 64 separate images), and stitched them all back together again once they were loaded into the browser.

The outcome was a high-resolution image (made up of smaller individual images) that renders sharply even when zoomed right in. This gets around the issue of the Safari web browser on an iPad automatically scaling down large images.

Research suggests that this may be a first in application development of this sort, especially one developed wholly in HTML5.

Gesture enhanced interactive

Once this high resolution was served up onto the new iPad3, in high resolution quality, it became clear that it would make more sense to make this a ‘gesture enhanced’ (pinch to zoom) interactive in addition to interpreting predetermined parts of the painting.

This means that the user can now fully explore the entire image, zooming right into any part of the image, whilst being able to read interpretive labels embedded within the image.

Colour Accuracy

The next problem to solve was the one of colour accuracy. Due to the original paintings being very dark, most images that we had to play with were lightened in order to see the detail. This lightening caused the colours to be untrue to the original, something that would be noticeable once screen and canvas were next to each other in the gallery.

A quick phone call to our photography department affirmed that they had high-resolution master TIFF files available that were ‘colour correct’, i.e. the colours in the digital capture were exactly as they were in the painting.

These colour correct images turned out to be strikingly different to the ones that we had previously been playing with, the increased sharpness causing even more detail to become apparent, even figures appeared that weren’t noticeable on the previous images.

The application will be installed alongside the paintings of Margam House in the Art in Wales 1500-1700 gallery at National Museum Cardiff in October 2012.

Bringing it all together: Art in Wales 1550-1700 

A parallel development to this in-gallery interactive is a website interactive exploring a major portrait of the builder of Margam House – Sir Thomas Mansel with his wife, Jayne (hung alongside the Margam paintings in Art in Wales 1550-1700 gallery). Again, certain parts of the painting can be explored in high resolution through interpretive labels embedded in the image. This further compliments an existing interactive, exploring another major portrait in the gallery – Katheryn of Berain, the Mother of Wales.

It is hoped to extend this program to include all the items in the gallery, thus forming a holistic digital interpretation of Art in Wales from 1550-1700, available both within the gallery and through the website.