Museums are Good for You
Museums are brilliant and inspiring places, there can be no doubt about it. People visit museums for many, many reasons. Museums make you smarter, inspire, are a focus for the community and a great place to spend time with your friends and family. But what effect does a museum visit have on you? The entertainment factor of a museum makes you feel enjoyment. Understanding how things work raises your self-esteem. Appreciating the aesthetics of a great object stretches your imagination and is uplifting. And you get all of this in a calm and safe place. People definitely visit museums to feel good and if you need a bit of a lift I would wholeheartedly recommend you visit your local museum.
There is plenty of research to back all of this up. Museums make us happy – museum visits contribute more to wellbeing than arts and sports. Museums, especially if working in partnership with other organisations, can make a huge contribution to mental health (Museum Development North West Who Cares report). The economic benefits of museums are estimated to be in the order of £1.5 billion per year. And while many museums have reduced their own carbon footprints, the role the cultural sector play in driving wider societal change is also growing.
Museums have an enormous potential to change and develop communities. One of the best places to visit in any town and city for access to current research and new ideas is the museum. Museums are therefore best placed for being hot spots of community engagement. In this context, the Museums Association, through their new flagship campaign Museums Change Lives), encourages museums to be more proactive in making an impact on society and people’s wellbeing.
It is hard in the current financial climate especially for small museums with staff shortages, leaking roofs and paint peeling off the walls to continue this work. Fortunately, museums attract some of the most enthusiastic and resourceful staff and volunteers, who, despite these pressures, will do anything they can to ensure that museums continue to be good for you.
The Welsh Museums Federation’s ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project is supporting curators in 20 local museums around Wales. By providing training and information about natural science collections we are going to ensure the continued use of these collections for inspiration, learning and community focus. We are enabling curators to care for and use their natural science collections. This will help to ensure that museums in Wales can look into the future and still make us happy for many more years to come.
3 days to Beachwatch!
BEATCHWATCH – Saturday 21 September
10.30am – 12pm. Amgueddfa Cymru staff will be running fun family activities for the public to help them learn about the biology and geology of Ogmore beach. They will be looking at rock pools, strandlines, rocks and fossils along the shore.This year we will also have a fun ART activity involving plaster of paris and seashells. These morning activities are now fully booked, but you can still come along in the afternnoon to help out with the beach clean.
1pm – 2.30pm. Help with the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean (Open to all).
Where: Ogmore Beach, Vale of Glamorgan. Meeting on the beach at Ogmore beach car park – down the ramp in front of the lifeguard centre.
Suitable for all ages, hope to see you there.
A species new to science!
A new species of marine bristleworm (polychaete) has just been described in a collaboration between Amgueddfa Cymru and the East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Shanghai. The species is a type of shovelhead worm, a group that get their name from the flattened head region used to burrow within sand. The new species was discovered in the Jiangsu Province of the Yellow Sea. The new species is called Magelona parochilis Zhou & Mortimer, 2013 and was published this month in the scientific publication, The Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
A batty summer at St Fagans!
I don’t know about you, but I cannot believe how quickly August flew by! It seems as if it was only yesterday that schools were breaking up, but now it is already time for us to welcome school visits again for a brand new school year!
This summer was slightly different for myself in St Fagans. Due to the redevelopment project we have lost use of the Tŷ Gwyrdd eco house, so our summer events this year had a slightly more nomadic feel than normal! It was nice to visit other parts of the museum and to explore some of the wildlife found in different places.
In total this summer, around 1000 people took part in a variety of nature activities within the museum, from minibeast bug hunts in the woods to our very popular twilight bat walks around the site.
The summer began with us re-opening the bird hide at its new location near Hendre Wen barn. After initial worries of whether we would attract similar numbers of birds as the previous location, I was very relieved after spending 30 minutes in the hide and spotting 11 different species. Hopefully we will continue to attract such a wide variety of birds to our feeders. The bird hide is open every day, so on your next visit be sure to pop in and see what you spot!
In August we had a bit of a bat scare at the Tannery. The Tannery building is home to a roost of rare Lesser Horseshoe bats. A small electrical fire broke out one morning in the room directly below the roof space where the bats normally roost. Thankfully a quick response from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service ensured that the fire did not spread. Luckily, the bats had flown to an area of the building unaffected by the fire. The story even made it onto the BBC website! Thanks to Anwen for the pictures!
The bats have now returned to their normal roosting spot and they seem to have been largely unaffected by the event. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our bat camera which is situated in the building. A combination of smoke and water damage means that we will have to replace the camera, which we will be doing as soon as possible!
Bats at St Fagans seem to be going from strength to strength. We have 11 of the 18 British species known roosting within the museum grounds, including the elusive Nathusius Pipistrelle bat which has been found roosting in 2 of our buildings. Previous to this, there were only 2 known roosting locations for this species in the whole of Wales. This story also made the news recently!
This year we held 3 Twilight Batwalks, all of which booked up well in advance. Thanks to all who came and apologies to anyone who tried to book but were unable to! Next year we are planning on having 4 walks throughout August, with the possibility of more depending on demand! If you came on one of our batwalks, or took part in any nature events this summer, please let us know what you though, either by commenting here or sending an us an email!
Finally a big thanks to our new team of volunteers who helped out over the summer! Having an extra pair or two of hands during workshops and events is invaluable and means that we can offer a better experience to our visitors. I look forward to working with you again in the near future!
They're flying reptiles ... (not dinosaurs!)
Our penultimate family activity has gone down really well, with grown ups and children really getting into this simple activity. Hundreds of visitors have been very creative with pipecleaners, cards and pegs as these photos show. And even more satisfying is that everyone has gone home with the clear learning message that while pterosaurs were alive at the same time as dinosaurs they were a different species entirely!
For even more photos of all our family activities visit our flickr page
Next week is the activity I'm most looking forward to, designing our own pop art inspired record sleeves. My only fear is that some visitors might not know what a record is so I'll be bringing in a record player and some of my records!
Kunstformen der Natur
Step into a wonderland of colour, a celebration of the natural world in all its artistic and symmetrical glory...
Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was an eminent German zoologist who specialized in invertebrate anatomy. He named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many now ubiquitous terms in biology. A popularizer of Charles Darwin, Haeckel embraced evolution not only as a scientific theory, but as a worldview. He outlined a new religion or philosophy called monism, which cast evolution as a cosmic force, a manifestation of the creative energy of nature.
Haeckel’s chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including the development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur - Art Forms of Nature, a collection of 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations (lithographic and autotype) of animals and sea creatures prints. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904, and as a complete volume in 1904.
The overriding themes of the Kunstformenplates are symmetry and organization, central aspects of Haeckel's monism. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.
Kunstformen der Natur played a role in the development of early twentieth century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé.
Our copy of Kunstformen der Natur [photographed here] is a complete bound volume of all ten fascicules and sits in our folio section. It was donated to us in 1919 by the first Director of the National Museum of Wales [from 1909 to 1924], William Evans Hoyle. Hoyle’s trained as a medical anatomist and developed a life long interest in 'cephalopods'. Our BioSyB Department now holds Hoyle's cephalopod collection [over 400 of them] along with many other specimens and publications.
Haeckel biographical information:
Hoyle biographical information:
All photographs in this post taken by the author.
Barents 5: a few animals
#1, the black pudding [1 & 2]
This 10cm long, purple black sausage shaped creature was in a number of the beam trawls. It’s not at all obvious what it is at first but there are 15 tentacles around the mouth and you can just make out five bands running along the body. These numbers suggest an animal with symmetry of five and therefore a relative of starfish. It is indeed a sea-cucumber (holothurian) of some kind and it will live by ingesting mud and feeding on the detritus in it.
#2 starfish and sea urchins [3 & 4]
These represent some of the more colourful and larger animals taken by the beam trawl and the starfish are easily seen on the videos. The muddy urchins you will not see, as they are burrowing creatures that we know as sea potatoes. Close up some of starfish show good protection from being eaten by foraging fish.
#3, too close for comfort? [5 & 6]
In this expanse of mud there are few place for attached epifauna to settle so even the smallest hard surfaces are colonised. The clams Astarte and Bathyarca both live close to the surface of the mud and their hind portions are often colonised by minute foraminifera and tiny hydroids and polyps. Here both have been colonised by a sponge that has taken over a large part of the shell but despite this the clams are alive and well.
#4 who’s in my house? [7, 8 & 9]
These exquisite tusk like tubes are built out of sand grains by the polychaete worm Pectinaria and are very common in many of our samples. But when you look at the opening many tubes are filled with mud and have a central burrow. Opening these you will find the peanut-worm Phascolion has taken over, it will also do this in empty snail shells and worm tubes. The peanut-worm does not eject the polychaete but settles and grows in empty tubes. In image 9 the grey sausage shape is the peanut–worm and the pink worm is the Pectinaria. What happens when the peanut-worm outgrows the tube I do not know!
#5 is it a coral? 
Without a scale these little calcareous parasols could be mistaken for a coral colony but the largest does not exceed a centimetre in diameter and are attached to small pebbles. Without the microscope it is difficult to see what they are but underneath the arms of the parasol there are rows of little cavities each containing an individual animal. This is a bryozoan and is more familiar to us in a mat or frond form.
Barents 4 : The Sea of Mud
You have not heard from me for a while because there has been little to report in the way of spectacular finds. The Barents Sea, at least the sector we are in, is a plain of muddy sediments at depths of 210 to 350 metres. That is not say that there is no life down there most of it is hidden in the mud and most are rather small and beyond the ability of my camera.
I thought that I should review where and what has been going on. Two images to remind you of where we are [1, 2]; in the second the oval area is the study area. The coloured images show the water depths from brown-yellow-green-blue from shallow to deep. Geologists also survey the area using a type of penetrating sonar that gives a picture of the structures in the seabed. This data is combined with the bathymetry and using this the geologists and biologists decide where to make their investigations  .
Two interesting features on the these images  : - first the long groove (top and middle left) is the trough made by a massive iceberg grinding into the seafloor probably not long after the end of the last ice age; secondly (middle and bottom rows) all the dots represent pock-marks made by methane gas flowing out through the mud and leaving a depression. It is thought the gas was trapped by the pressure of the ice during the ice age and when the ice retreated this gas was released all over the Barents Sea.
The animals that I am interested in often live around pockmarks but unfortunately most are now inactive. We did visit an area where active gas seepage has been found but we found no specialised fauna from our sampling. This area consists of two mounds  created by the slow upward movement of salt layers deep in the underlying rocks, called salt diapirs  these sites are often associated with gas seepage and unusual faunas.
Many thanks to Valerié Bellec for the multibeam images.
Having set the sampling grid the geologists using the multicorer [7, 8] take sediment samples and these are also used by a geochemist that looks for contaminants such as heavy metals. Here  Stepan (geochemist) washes down the tubes while in the background Sigrid and Valerie discuss what to do next.
You have already seen the video (CAMPOD) and beam trawl in action but the bulk of the quantitative data is gathered by the grab  . Andrey washes out the sediment through a 1 mm mesh in the auto-siever ; all animals are kept to be counted and identified later back at base.
All this data is combined in a GIS (geographical information system) system and maps of the seabed produced. These maps can show bathymetry, sediments, and geochemistry but here is one for the area off Tromsø showing a combination of sediments and faunas  . The faunas are recognised by the dominant species seen by the video combined with data from the trawl and grab. These maps are interactive and can be viewed on the MAREANO web site.
The MAREANO project is very ambitious but it will provide both scientists and decision makers with the information needed to manage the Norwegian Seas. The Barents Sea data will help decide how to manage the cod fishery and the coming oil exploration.
Finally its midnight through my porthole 
The Ghost Orchid
The Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum is an extremely rare species found in a very small number of sites within the UK. The plant feeds by parasitising fungi, rather than through photosynthesis and as a result is largely colourless, hence its name. It was deemed extinct in 2005 but a new specimen was found in 2009 and was later collected after being eaten through by a slug. The National Museum Wales Herbarium has seven specimens of this orchid, five courtesy of marauding slugs.
The specimen pictured was also cut down by a slug but this is even more rare, because of the way it has been preserved. This specimen was collected in 1982 and placed into a solution of formalin. The specimen arrived on my desk last week and I have since provided new labels, a new jar and it is now in a new preserving fluid of 10% DMDM Hydantoin and 0.5% glycerol increase its longevity and improve visual clarity. By preserving this specimen in fluid its 3 dimensional morphology is clearly demonstrated and the fluid gives it an even more ghostly appearance.
Dr Victoria Purewal, Botanical Conservation Officer
Summer holidays means it’s a really busy time for our sites and there’s so much going on at all our museums – something for the whole family so if you’ve visiting one of our seven museums, I do hope you all enjoy a great experience over the next few weeks.
I spent last week up in north Wales and visited the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh for a few days. Amgueddfa Cymru has a stand at the Eisteddfod every year and it’s a great to engage with people and tell them what our sites have to offer. There was a different theme every day of the week and when I was there on Monday the focus was Neanderthal Wales. The connection is that the Pontnewydd and Elwy Valley Caves are in Denbighshire and were the focus of museum excavations years ago. Then on Tuesday we celebrated the artist John Piper and explorer Charles Darwin both of whom were very inspired by Dyffryn Clwyd. It was good to enjoy the cultural festival, meet new people and see some of our heritage partners.
Whilst I was up in north Wales, I also had a chance to visit our National Slate Museum in Llanberis in Snowdonia where I joined Dafydd Roberts and the team there in welcoming Baroness Kay Andrews. Baroness Andrews, who grew up in Tredegar, has just stepped down as Chair of English Heritage, and has now been commissioned by the Welsh Government to write a report by January 2014 on how the cultural sector in Wales can work together more effectively to address poverty.
At Llanberis currently there’s a new exhibition which showcases the life's work of artist Falcon Hildred, documenting the industrial landscapes and buildings of England and Wales. The exhibition, a partnership between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Limited, has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
I also went over to Wrexham for the opening of the exhibition of the Mold Gold Cape at Wrexham Museum. They certainly know their Bronze Age artefacts in the area and they’ve done a spectacular job of the exhibition. It’s well worth going to see if you’re in the area.
After a busy week which really tired me out, I have been relaxing by watching Ken Loach's film, The Spirit of '45. Perhaps relaxing is the wrong word to use in response to a powerfully argued and moving tribute to the achievements of the Attlee government, and footage of the slum conditions of pre-War Britain that shows why such changes were so necessary.