Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales

Home

A lot of progress has been made since my last blog post. The thatching has been completed and the final stages of landscaping are underway. An earthen bank has been built around the two roundhouses, replicating the formidable defences of the original site at Bryn Eryr Farm in Anglesey. A turf-roofed shelter has been built behind the houses, which is to be used as an outdoor workshop as well as an additional educational facility. Its walls are of clom (a mixture of clay, subsoil and aggregate) just like the roundhouses, but its turf roof represents another roofing material arguably as old as thatching itself. A cobbled surface has been created outside the front of the roundhouses, again, reminiscent of the original site.

Recently, my work has focussed on furnishing the interior of the houses. The larger of the two houses will remain fairly empty (other than a hearth and a wooden bench that circumnavigates its inner perimeter) so that it can be used as a classroom and demonstration area. The smaller house has been dressed to display Iron Age life. Within are some of the furnishings expected of any Iron Age house: a hearth for warmth, a bed for sleeping, a loom for weaving clothing and blankets – along with wooden chests to store them in, and a cauldron for cooking food. Nearly all of the items on display are based on period examples that have managed to survive 2000 years of time. For instance, the cauldron is a replica of a well-preserved copper and iron cooking pot from Llyn Cerrig Bach – only 25km away from the Bryn Eryr site. The iron fire-dogs are simplified replicas of the Capel Garmon fire-dog which was discovered not far away in Denbighshire. The wooden bowls are replicas of those found at the Breiddin hillfort in Montgomeryshire, and the quern stones (for grinding corn into flour) are replicas of ones found within the Bryn Eryr roundhouses themselves. We have a full wood-working tool-kit based on examples from hillforts such as Tre’r Ceiri and Castell Henllys. Even the blankets on the bed have been faithfully copied from surviving scraps of textile.

Now that the house has been faithfully dressed with period furnishings, we can use the space to demonstrate what life was like within a roundhouse. Furthermore, with the aid of craftspeople, re-enactors and volunteers, we can contribute to a deeper understanding of life in the Iron Age, and help turn this house into a home.

This is the summary of a talk Carolyn Graves-Brown from Swansea's Egypt Centre gave at the recent "Heritage in Turbulent Times" event at National Museum Cardiff.

Studies of Bronze Age Egyptian weapons and warfare tend concentrate on metal weapons and ignore the part played by flint. Flint is not considered as attractive as copper or gold and in a milieu which is impressed by technological progress, metal is still considered superior. However, at least until the Early New Kingdom (c. the time of Tutankhamun or 1300 BC) there is strong evidence that flint weapons were standard military issue and far from being a primitive technology they were a natural choice for both utilitarian and ideological reasons.

Despite the fact that many hundreds of artefacts were found in a possible armoury in an Egyptian fort sited in Nubia (modern Sudan) and the fact that contemporary artefacts are known from sites in Egypt, flint found on Egyptian sites is often explained away as either foreign or intrusive to New Kingdom contexts. However, in many instances flint is a good choice for weapon manufacture, particularly where a quick and ‘dirty’ fight is envisaged. Flint is sharper, arguably cheaper and often more deadly than metal. Warfare and flint also had an ideological importance, it is the ideal weapon of the sun-god Re and perfect for destroying the enemies of Egypt. I concur that metal was a component of warfare, but make a plea for the role of lithics.

National Museum Wales and Cardiff University contribute to heritage preservation. If you would like to know more about "Heritage in Turbulent Times" please follow our blog.

How many of you, like me, find yourselves turning to tried and tested recipes? They’re often dishes that have been handed down through my family, they’re comforting and remind me of my childhood.

The archive at St Fagans has a large collection of recipes, the vast majority of them passed down from generation to generation. The information has been gathered through questionnaires, letters and handwritten recipes. But the bulk of the collection was the work undertaken by Minwel Tibbott. When she started at the Museum in 1969, the study of traditional foods was a very new research field. Minwel realised very early on that the information would not be found in books. She travelled all over Wales in order to interview, record and film the older generation of women, many of them in their eighties. They recalled the dishes prepared by their mothers, and their memories harked back to the end of the 1800s.

As part of St Fagans Food Festival this year, which will be held on the weekend of the 5th and 6th of September, we’re asking for your help to add to this collection. As you settle down this evening to watch the new series of the Great British Bake Off, take a moment to think of your signature bake. What time-honoured family recipe would you share? How do you adapt traditional dishes? Do you have a dog-eared, but well-loved family recipe book, covered with additional notes and food stains? We’d love to find out what the dishes remind you of? Which ones are reserved for special occasions?

Tweet images and memories to @archifSFarchive, or bring them along to Oakdale Workmen’s Institute during the Food Festival and we’ll scan them. If they’re not written, as is the case with so many family favourites, you can tell us on the day.

For the latest on this project, follow tweets by @archifSFarchive and @SF_Ystafelloedd and the hashtags #FoodFestival #Recipes.

Our second event on preservation of heritage in times of conflict is on Saturday 11th July at National Museum Cardiff, 10:00 to 17:00. Throughout the afternoon, we will again offer a series of short (15-minute) informative talks:

14:00 - Stabilizing heritage in turbulent times; what can science do? (Dr Lisa Mol, Cardiff University)

14:30 - The role of Conservators in heritage preservation. (Dr Christian Baars, Amgueddfa Cymru) 

15:00 - Authenticity, ownership and the question of restoration vs preservation vs conservation. (Jane Henderson, Cardiff University)

15:30 - Flint in Egyptian Pharaonic Warfare. (Carolyn Graves-Brown, Egypt Centre Swansea)

16:00 - War damaged monuments: memory and preservation. (Dr Toby Thacker, Cardiff University)

All talks are free of charge. The event is hosted by Amgueddfa Cymru and sponsored by Cardiff University. For further information follow our blog here, or at Cardiff University.

Museum conservators are responsible for the care of collections. This includes appropriate storage of objects, housekeeping, and maintaining the correct environmental conditions to stop, for example, books in library collections from getting mouldy. In addition, emergency preparedness is another aspect of collections care (or: preventive conservation). How important this is was recently demonstrated during a large fire that gutted an entire historic property.

The fire at Clandon Park in April 2015 was devastating. However, a large part of the objects on display in the house were rescued successfully. This was only possible because the National Trust, who owns Clandon Park, has in place extremely well organised emergency plans. When the fire broke out these plans kicked into action immediately, and a well-rehearsed cooperation with the fire service led to the salvage of hundreds of objects from the house.

The fire fighters risked their lives to salvage important cultural objects. In addition, the help from staff, volunteers and local people must not be forgotten. But the point I am trying to make is that without an emergency plan, all of those helpers may not have achieved very much.

The documentation handed over to the emergency services in case of a disaster in a historic property or museum includes information on what the most important objects are, where they are kept and how they are secured. This enables planning a salvage operation down to taking the tools required for object removal into the building; it avoids the situation where you stand in a burning room in front of the object that needs to be removed quickly only to find out you took a flat-head screwdriver, rather than the Phillips you actually needed.

Emergencies are not restricted to fires. Floods, storms, even earthquakes and acts of terrorism (for example, the attack on the Bardot, Tunisia’s National Museum) can all lead to cultural heritage being damaged. In Wales, the Assembly Government has set up an Emergency Planning Network for museums to help museums, archives and libraries prepare for emergencies. The development of a network response group provides heritage professionals to help museums, archives and libraries in the event of an emergency, and assist with salvage and recovery.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales has its own emergency plans which we hope will never have to be used – but it is nevertheless important to be prepared. Disaster preparation is part of the role of preventive conservators; we attempt to limit damage occurring to cultural objects in our care to keep them safe for you and future generations. This involves risk assessments, minimising risks – and being prepared for the worst to happen.

If you would like to know more about disaster prevention in museums, and heritage preservation in general, follow our blog, or Cardiff University's “Heritage in Turbulent Times” blog, and come to our free event at National Museum Cardiff on 11th July with talks on why scientists shoot with guns at building stones, restoration/preservation/conservation, flint in Egyptian Pharaonic warfare, and war-damaged monuments.

"Heritage in Turbulent Times" is a joint project between Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales.