Starting work on our new Celtic Village
As many regular visitors to St Fagans will know, our much-loved Celtic Village was closed earlier in the year. Twenty years seems to be about the normal life-span for reconstructed Iron Age roundhouses – the timbers decay and they begin to get a bit wobbly after that. To replace it we're going to be building a new reconstruction based on a 2,000 year old Iron Age farmstead on Anglesey called Bryn Eryr, and just recently we reached a really exciting milestone along the way.
The Bryn Eryr roundhouses consisted of two buildings built side-by-side. Their walls were made of packed clay (probably mixed with grit and straw, like Wales's traditional clom-built houses) and the roofs were thatched. We've had a lot of discussions about what we should use to thatch them. Naturally the roofs of the original buildings haven't survived, but we do know that its Iron Age owners had access to spelt – an early form of wheat – because charred grains were found at the site. From there the argument goes, if they were harvesting spelt grains to make their bread they also had their hands-on a useful thatching material, spelt straw.
So, we thought, St Fagans is surrounded by farm land, we've got an excellent farming team, and lots of enthusiasm, why not try to grow a crop of spelt ourselves and see whether we can thatch our next Iron Age farmstead with it?
There are a lot of uncertainties involved in this, many things can go wrong between the idea and the harvesting but St Fagans is part of an EU collaboration which encourages just this kind of experimental research. So thanks to the OpenArch project, with its Culture programme funding, and a lot of advice from experts in the field (apologies for the pun), we've decided to give it a go.
A few months ago we ploughed 3.4 hectares (8.4 acres) just outside the main museum site. This looks like an enormous area when you're stood beside it, but we're told this is what we need in order to produce enough straw to thatch two large roundhouses.
With the ploughing done, our Learning Team organised an opportunity for school groups to come out and see what we were up to. This was followed by the museum's archaeologists bringing together a team of volunteers who walked the area in search of any artefacts that may have been turned up by the plough. The finds from this have yet to be analysed but already we can see that the area had been visited by prehistoric hunter-gatherers, a 13th-century traveller who lost some loose change, and many other more recent people.
And then it rained, and rained and rained. Our spelt seed arrived and was placed in a barn, and still it rained. I was beginning to get very worried. It's all very well having a plan to grow a crop of Iron Age wheat, but that's not going to happen if the seed stays in sacks. Then a few weeks the weather cleared up, the ground dried sufficiently and we finally got a chance to plant.
Then we waited… Would anything happen? Had we left it too late? Would frosts / rain / snow put a stop to our plans? Happily not! Last week we found the first seeds had germinated. I’m going out to the field again today to check on its progress. Will the shoots be showing? Have we got the spacing of the seed right? Will the rabbits leave it alone? Will it grow tall? I feel like an expectant father all over again.
12 Specimens of Christmas
The Museum holds over 5 million Natural History Specimens in its collections. Our curators have been looking amongst the racking, shelving and within cabinets to find our top '12 Specimens of Christmas’.
1. Christmas Gold, Dactylioceras athleticum, a Jurassic ammonite from Whitby, North Yorkshire.
2. Angel Wing Clam, Cyrtopleura costata (Linnaeus, 1758), which burrows to nearly a metre in sands and muds. The two valves of the clam do not completely close.
3. A festive Robin from our Vertebrate Collections.
4. A Water Colour of the Common Fig (Ficus carica Linnaeus, 1753) painted by Dale Evans, a contemporary botanical artist. The museum holds over 7000 prints and original works of botanical illustrations.
5. Christmas Beetle (Anoplognathus sp.) from Australia. The adult beetles mostly appear around Christmas time. This species is one of the many thousands of beetle species in the collection.
6. A gold nugget from the Mineral Collections, nicknamed ‘the cat’, from Afon Mawddach, which forms part of a large collection recently acquired by the museum.
7. The Welsh National Herbarium at the Museum holds over 265,000 accessioned specimens. This is British native Holly (Ilex aquifolium) collected from the hedge in the museum car park back in 2012. Harry Potter fans will know that this is the wood used to make Harry’s Wand.
8. Parasitic Mistletoe (Viscum album) found in Cardiff in 1929.
9. A British Holly Blue Butterfly, Celastrina argiolus (Linnaeus, 1758). The caterpillar of this fairly common butterfly feed on the flowers and developing berries of holly and ivy.
10. A real star for Christmas: a fossil starfish called Palaeocoma, 420 million years old, from Herefordshire.
11. A Snow Flea, Boreus hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1767), this small predatory insect is commonest in upland areas and can be found on snow covered ground in winter. This specimen was collected by Bangor University around Snowdon in 1991.
12. Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) often flowers from January, but this was collected in December 1884 at the museum.
An Industry Christmas Special
Christmas is almost upon us, and we thought we would bring you some festive cheer from the industry collections.
This Christmas Lego set was donated in 2000, and represents the post-1930 industry collections, and toy manufacture in Wales. The set comprises Father Christmas with reindeer and sleigh, and is complete with its original box. The brand name Lego comes from the Danish words "LEg GOdt" meaning to "play well" and in Latin it means “I put together”. In 1963 British Lego Ltd. set up a new headquarters and factory in Wrexham, Wales and this set was manufactured there. Production at Wrexham ceased in 1977.
This mug, sold in aid of the "1984 Miners Children Appeal", was manufactured by Commemorative Pottery. It depicts a festive scene with children dancing around a Christmas tree hung with miners flame safety lamps. On the reverse an inscription describes that the aim of the Striking Miners Children Appeal Support Fund was to create “a happier Christmas for the children of Britain’s Mineworkers” during the strike of 1984/85.
A Child's Christmas in Wales - Family Christmas Holiday Workshops at National Museum, Cardiff
Inspired by the amazing Peter Blake exhibition 'Llareggub' (Peter Blake illustrates Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas) we are going to be enjoying extracts from Dylan Thomas' 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' in the Clore Discovery Centre and making lovely bags to store our own festive treasures.
As can be seen from the photograph of our prepartations the activity will involve lots of ribbon, shiny bells, the wonderful words of Dylan Thomas and a chance for you to share your favourite Christmas memories.
Nadolig Llawen / Happy Christmas
Conserving some newly found Roman cremation urns and their contents
One item currently residing in the archaeological conservation laboratory is something that looks like a pot, but isn’t! It’s solid and actually made of soil that contains the cremated remains of a Roman who once lived at the Roman fort of Isca, now the town of Caerleon. This was contained inside a pot, but the vessel was cracked and broken so the pieces fell away leaving it's contents intact, held together by the dry clay soil.
Wherever you dig in Caerleon you often find the Romans have been there before you. So, not surprisingly, when digging the foundations of a garage a cremation urn was unearthed. The pot and contents was carefully excavated and brought back to the conservation lab at the National Museum of wales in Cardiff for examination and treatment.
Once the soil had been removed from the outside it became clear the pot was seriously damaged. In damp ground this relatively low fired pottery becomes quite soft and therefore easily misshapen by the pressure of the soil around it. The building work above had squashed our pot forcing the rim and shoulders down inside it, while the sides had begun to bulge out and split like the segments of an orange. It was only the soil around the pot that was keeping it together, so as the soil was carefully removed in the lab, pieces of the pot (in archaeology referred to as pot sherds) started to fall away leaving a complete pot-shaped core of soil still containing the cremation. It even had a cast of the interior surface, including the ridges created by the potter’s fingers formed when the clay was being turned on the wheel.
Once the pot was fully dismantled and cleaned, all 105 pieces were put back together again, some areas were missing and hadn’t survived, but enough was retrieved to recreate the original shape. The pot was a bit reluctant at first to return to its original form because it had become misshape in the ground, but with gentle persuasion and patience it was successfully reconstructed, this did take a few days though.
The surface of the pot was also very powdery and every time it was moved or picked up it left a patch of orange powder behind. To stop further loss the pot had to be treated with a very dilute adhesive to help consolidate the surface, allowing it to be handled safely again.
When new the pot may not have looked orange, but white! There is evidence to suggest cremation vessels may have been coated on the outside in a white clay slip. The surface of our pot was too damaged unfortunately to say if that was the case here.
Was the pot an everyday storage jar selected to contain the cremated bones or was it made especially for the purpose? This question still intrigues archaeologists today, in the case of our pot the rim was badly damaged, but what survived was not the plain rim normally expected on domestic pottery, but a slightly indented, impractical frilly edge which might suggest it was especially made for the purpose. More evidence is required before we can be sure though.
The next stage is to excavate the soil block and retrieve the cremated bone and see if any objects were placed in the pot with the remains.
One recording week til Christmas!
Merry Christmas Bulb Buddies!
I can't believe this is the last recording week of 2013! Congratulations on keeping weather records for the last six weeks! You don't need to keep anymore records now until the week beginning the 2nd of January 2014. You can leave your bulbs in school over Christmas and relax until the New Year. I hope you have a fantastic Christmas after working so hard this term!
We've had some terrible weather this week so I do hope you didn't have any storm damage or flooding in your local area. The weather has caused some terrible problems for people across the UK - see the weather in pictures http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/feeds/25232374
Manor Primary School (Oxfordshire) reported:We are very sad to say that all the plant pots blew over. As a result the bulbs and compost came out the pots. I just wondered what you would like us to do and whether we can re pot and carry on?
With the recent weather, I'm sure many pots blew over and many bulbs will need re-potting. Don't worry your baby bulbs are fairly tough and will be fine if they are quickly tucked safely back into their pots.
Merry Christmas from Professor Plant and Baby Bulb!
St. Mary's Catholic Primary School, Leyland: Dear Professor Plant. On Tuesday and Friday this week, we think our temperature was so high because the sun was shining right on our thermometer. It felt so much colder - our teacher’s car thermometer showed 3 degrees. Next week, we are going to move our thermometer to a different place where the sun will not shine directly onto it. Love from Mrs Thompson's Year 1 Class. Prof:P: You've done the right thing here, it's important that thermometers are not placed in direct sunlight or they will show higher temperatures.
Raglan VC Primary: Rainfall on Mon included the weekend rainfall. A crocus bulb was starting to shoot (20/11/13), we covered it with a handful of compost. Prof.P: This is a good idea to keep the bulb warm but as long as the crocus bulb was planted 10cm beneath the soil then you shouldn't need to cover over any shoots in future.
Ysgol Bro Eirwg: Cwestiwn oddi wrth Rhys: Pam mae angen dwr ar y bylbiau? Prof.P: You only need to water your bulbs if the soil in the pots becomes dry to touch. At this time of year there should be plenty of water from the rain but it's important to check your pots when you make your weather records. Bulbs need water which they absorb through their roots. The water helps the plant grow shoots and prepare to flower in the spring.
Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): It's been a blustery but fairly dry week here in Lancashire. Our bulb labels have suffered in the winds but hopefully the bulbs will be snug in their pots! Prof.P: Sorry your labels are ruined but glad your bulbs are safe :-)
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: Tuesday there was a small layering of snow. Prof.P: How exciting! Also bulbs need cold weather to trigger their growth at this time of year - so all good for the bulbs.
Ysgol Rhys Prichard: Tuesday rainfall fell as sleet. Thursday was the first real frost this winter. Prof.P: Again, this is great for the bulbs to trigger their growth.
Arkholme CE Primary School: There are some difficulties on a Monday morning because sometimes it might have rained over the weekend. Prof.P: Don't worry Arkholme - we expect all the schools taking part to have a higher reading on a Monday so this is not a problem.
Greyfriars RC Primary School: hi our bulbs are doing fine and the leaves on the trees in the school garden have fallen. The Scots Pine still has its needles. From Airlie and Athen. Prof.P: Yes the Scots pine is one of our few native plants to remain green in the winter. Can you think of anymore? These plants are often mentioned in carols.
The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: The weather is very varied each day; sunshine, cloud, breeze. On Sunday night it froze hard so even though the temperature was high in the sunshine, the compost in the pots was frozen. Prof.P: this is good for the bulbs at this time of year it tells them that it is winter now and that spring is on its way in a few months.
St. Ignatius Primary School: Again the bulbs have been vandalised over the weekend. The pots have been moved or tipped over. Our janitor is out at the moment trying to fix them and get everything back to normal. We are very upset and disappointed by this but we will continue to look after our plants as best we can. Prof.P: Very sorry to hear that this has happened again but delighted to hear that you are determined to continue. Is there anywhere else in the school that is safer to keep them?
Glyncollen Primary School: We are getting really good at recording our weather data. This week has been very cold. We hope the bulbs are warm in the earth. Prof.P: Don't worry the bulbs will be fine - they like it cold at this time of year. Glad to hear that you are getting good at keeping your weather records it's a very useful skill that you are learning.
Raglan VC Primary: 10% of pots are showing growth of bulbs. Prof.P: I like how you are reporting this. Good use of numeracy!
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: Thursday night seen the area hit by storms. Prof.P: Glad the school is safe.
The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: A terrible storm on Tuesday night which continued with a wet and windy Wednesday. The pots keep filling up with leaves as fast as we can clear them but no need to water yet. The children are enjoying looking at the scales on the rain gauge and thermometer and comparing them to the rulers we are using in maths. Prof.P: Great to hear you are enjoying comparing this will make you super at science. Don’t worry about the leaves too much the bulbs will find their way through the leaves without any problems.
A Window into the Industry Collections
This is the second of our monthly Blogs on the Industrial collections.
At the beginning of this year we were donated a painting titled “Frongoch Lead Mines Nr Aberystwyth”. This is by the artist P.S. Smith and it now joins three other paintings by this artist depicting lead mines of north Ceredigion. The artist was awarded a scholarship to Liverpool School of Art in 1942, but this was interrupted by National Service in the mines. Later he was Head of Art at Cardigan Grammar School, and was co-founder and chairman for many years of the Cardigan Art Society. He was inspired by the Cardiganshire landscape and its buildings. The four paintings in our collection can be seen on our online catalogue “Images of Industry” - http://amgueddfacms/en/industry/images/?action=show_works&item=1034&type=artist
Ian Smith, our Curator of Contemporary and Modern History has recently acquired two items for the collection that were made in Wales.
The first is a Hitachi CBP2038 television set. This was manufactured by Hitachi in Hirwaun in 1983. It was able to show teletext and was one of the first teletext models on the market. It came to us complete with stand and a remote control that slides in and out of the main television body.
These miniature figures were also recently donated to us. A member of the public had visited the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea and noticed that we had a lot of toys on display in our “Made in Wales” Gallery and so donated this "Miniature Masterpieces by Marx" set. The figures were manufactured by Louis Marx and Co. Ltd. of Fforestfach, Swansea in the early 1960s.
Some of our toy collection on display in the “Made in Wales” Gallery at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.