Amgueddfa Blog: Casgliadau ac Ymchwil

The Museums Association Conference of 1948 was held at National Museum Cardiff over five days, running from July 12th to the 16th. All conference meetings were held in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, while an area within the Zoology Department was used as Association Office, Writing Room and Smoke Room.

We know the majority of host duties would have been carried out by Frederick J. North, who was Keeper of Geology and Archibald H. Lee, Museum Secretary, because they are listed on the programme as Honorary Local Secretaries. It is most likely we have them to thank for the ephemera held in the Library, including copies of the programme, associate and staff badges, reception invites, day trip tickets and the official group photograph, taken on the steps of the Museum.

The first day of the conference began with registration, followed by a Council meeting and visit to Cardiff Castle and a reception at the South Wales Institute of Engineers in the evening. The programme states this event as requiring Morning dress code which, during this time period would be a three piece suit for the men, and smart day dresses for the women, or general smart clothing suitable for formal social events.

The second day began with official welcomes by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman R. G. Robinson, and the President of the National Museum Wales, Sir Leonard Twiston-Davies. This was followed by a number of papers read by delegates [all fully listed in the programme], gathering for the official conference photograph, and a Civic Reception at City Hall, hosted by the Lord Mayor [with refreshments, music and dancing].

1948 was the year that St Fagans National Museum of History was first opened to the public as the St Fagans Folk Museum and to mark this, a visit was arranged for the afternoon of day three. St Fagans Castle, gardens, and grounds had been given to the National Museum Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1946 and over the next two years extensive work had been carried out to make it suitable to open to the public. According to the 1950 St Fagans guide book, in the Castle, new central heating, electric lighting, and fire appliances had to be installed along with a tickets office, refreshment room and public amenities. By 1948 our delegates would have had access to the Castle and its newly refurbished historic interiors such as the kitchen with two 16th century fireplaces, the Hall furnished in 17th century style, 17th and 18th century bedrooms and the early 19th century Library. They would also have enjoyed walking the gardens which included a mulberry grove, herb and rose gardens, vinery, fishponds, and flower-house interspersed with bronze sculptures by Sir William Goscombe John. Onsite also were a traditional wood-turner and a basket-maker, creating and selling their wares. The handbook also describes a delightful sounding small tea room with curtains made at the Holywell Textile Mills and watercolour paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn. However, according to a Western Mail clipping, this didn’t open to the public until some weeks later on August 24th. Presumably a room within the Castle itself was used for the delegates’ buffet tea to which they were treated after being greeted by the Curator of St Fagans, Dr Iorwerth Peate.

Interestingly the programme provides times of the train service that ran from Cardiff Central Station to St Fagans. Sadly, the station at St Fagans is no longer there, the service being withdrawn in 1962, although a signal box and level crossing on the line remain.

The Annual General Meeting, Council Meeting and Federation of Officers Meeting  were all held on the next day along with more papers, including one by Mr Duncan Guthrie [of the Arts Council], on the upcoming “Festival of Britain, 1951”. There was also an evening reception in the Museum hosted by the President, and the then Director [Sir Cyril Fox], with refreshments and music by the City of Cardiff High School for Girls Orchestra. The programme states evening dress if possible for this event so it’s a shame we don’t hold any photographs of what would have been a sea of tuxedos and evening gowns.

The final day consisted of further papers in the morning followed by escape and fresh air with visits to the Newport Corporation Museum and the Legionary Museum and Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon during the afternoon.

The September 1948 issue of Museums Journal contains a full report on the conference, with detailed examination of all papers presented and the discussions they generated. It also lists the delegates including those from overseas. The report concludes with thanks to the National Museum Cardiff for the welcome and hospitality accorded to the 240 delegates, with special mention to North and Lee [who would certainly have earned their salaries over those five days!].

Last Saturday (2nd June) I took part in Soapbox Science, an event promoting the role of women in science by getting them to stand on a soapbox in the middle of a city centre and explain to and, hopefully, enthuse, people about what they do. The Cardiff event (one of several held on the same day around the UK) was based outside Cardiff Central Library, by the St David’s Centre.

 

I thought that it would be the scariest event I had ever done, but in the end, it turned out to be more exciting that I expected and I was barely nervous at all. In fact, standing in a lecture hall in front of several hundred people staring at you while you present is definitely worse!

 

My talk was based around taxonomy, the science of describing, naming and classifying species, but particularly the aspect of it relating to how we create and give names to species, something we often get asked questions about during events. To this end I had created ‘Brian’, a new species of polychaete (marine bristleworms) the like of which I was pretty confident had not been seen before (at this time!). Brian, of course, was his common name, a name that might change according to who and where you were in the world. He needed a scientific name, a name that would remain consistent regardless of language or location and that allows scientists to be sure that they are talking about the same species.

 

Scientific names have 2 parts, a group (genus) name that often includes several species that appear similar in general shape and form, and a specific name, the unique name that only belongs to a single species and that separates it from all others. Names are chosen or made from one, or several, Latin or Greek words and when translated, often provide some information on important characters, general appearance or where the organism may first have been discovered. Specific names would not normally be determined without referring to the other members of the group, but for this activity, this once, we were looking at the animal in isolation.

 

Brian’s group name was Atravermis: from the Latin ‘ater’ meaning black and ‘vermis’ meaning worm. With help from my audience, we then highlighted features on Brian that stood out and we used these to create possible specific names for him. Some of those we came up with were:

rubropodus: from ‘ruber’ meaning red and ‘–podus’ meaning footed = red-footed referring to his red legs;

flavipapillatus: from ‘flavi-‘ meaning yellow and ‘papillatus’ meaning to have papillae (small round balls attached to the skin) = yellow papillated, referring to the yellow papillae found on the body.

 

There are many rules relating to how and what names you can use for organisms. Taxonomists do not name species after themselves but they can name one after someone else. Thus, another possible name proposed was:

 

johnstonei: after one of my fellow speakers, Ashleigh Johnstone, as well as several more relating to my audience.

 

Lastly, names can refer to where the animal was found so one of the last suggestions was:

morhafrenensis: from the Welsh name for the Severn Estuary, Môr Hafren.

 

If the final choice, this would have given Brian the name, Atravermis morhafrenensis, meaning ‘black worm of the Severn Estuary’!

 

So why is taxonomy important?

All species have a unique function and role in the environment and if one is affected then it is more than likely that others will be affected too, as the loss of one will always leave some form of ‘hole’. Discovering and naming species helps us recognise each as distinct from all others and then we can recognize if one (or more) is being affected by something and what that is so that we can act on it. Knowledge of species enables us to make decisions based on a more complete view of the world and scientific names mean that we can be sure we are all talking about the same species.

 

Hopefully my stint on the soapbox might have relayed some of this to my audience and left them with knowing a little bit more about scientific names and where they come from but also why they (and taxonomy as a whole) are important.

What was I thinking when I said yes?

 

Soapbox Science is a fantastic initiative to promote the role of women in science by getting them to stand on a soapbox in the middle of a city centre and explain to and, hopefully, enthuse, people about what they do. This year, the Cardiff event is being held on 2nd June, outside Cardiff Central Library, by the St David’s Centre (see poster).

 

So again, what was I thinking?

 

Well actually, I was thinking that most people don’t understand taxonomy, what it is and why it’s important, let alone why I would want to look at worms all day, and I want to tell them.

 

I want them to understand why it is important, not just to me, but why they should care too. Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying organisms (showing how they are all related to each other and patterns of evolution). It is just one aspect of my job but the one that often gets the most interest and questions and, I think, possibly the least understood part. In 2010, the Census of Marine Life returned an estimate of over one million species living in the oceans, of which around one to two thirds are thought to be unknown. Add to that more recent research that shows that many species are, in fact, species complexes that consist of multiple species that are almost indistinguishable in appearance and, actually, the estimate of undescribed species suddenly rockets.

 

But so what? Why should people care about whether we know what all the different creatures in the sea are and give them names? Well, that is what I want to explain along with a little about how we come up with names. To this end I now have the job of ‘creating’ a worm that people can help name on the day using various features and information that I will tell them. Names tell you something about the animal, sometimes appearance, sometimes where it is from, but importantly, names are unique and help you identify that one animal from a group of others that may look very similar.

 

The montaged image on this page is just one of two that I have created to show people what marine bristleworms (polychaetes) look like. Most people think of earthworms when you talk about worms but actually polychaetes are so much more: more colourful, more detailed, many have eyes and jaws and some can even grow big enough to bite you! They all have interesting names that I will help explain to demonstrate what names mean.

 

Intrigued? Want to know more? Then come down to the event on Saturday 2nd June and find out how we name species and why it is important!

(http://soapboxscience.org/soapbox-science-2018-cardiff/)

The National Museum Cardiff was happy to host a behind the scenes tour to Brecon Detectorists, a group of keen treasure hunters who jumped at the opportunity to delve into the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales archives.

David Hingley set up Brecon Metal Detecting club in 2011 and is enthusiastic about promoting responsible metal detecting to its members. “Everyone who comes through that door has a condition of membership – everything over a certain age has got to be registered for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, I insist upon it,” David explains. “We’re a small club, we’ve basically capped ourselves at 10. At the moment we’re 9, we’ve had a new guy just started, the big fella, Tom.”

And newcomer, Tom Haines, is no stranger to historical finds. Even before joining the club, he shared David’s passion for responsible detecting. While out walking his dog one day last year, Tom discovered a Bronze Age knife; which he reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme so it could be properly excavated.

“By reporting it, archaeologists might want to dig it, and that ended up being the case,” he recalls. “I could have taken it home, plonked it in my own collection and no one would have learnt anything from it and it would have just crumbled away. It’s being properly preserved and looked after and archaeologists can learn a lot from it.”

The knife was just the tip of the iceberg, however, and his discovery led archaeologists to unearth a Bronze Age burial site, complete with cremated human remains. “They found a bronze age pin in there so it was a good thing that I didn’t disturb that!” The knife and pin, as well as the urn in which they (and charred bone) were discovered is currently pending through the treasure process. The hoard will likely be acquired by Brecon Museum thanks to the Saving Treasures* project.

It’s this interest in preserving archaeological artefacts that brought the club to the museum – to discover just how important their finds can be to museum researchers, conservationists and of course, archaeologists and historians.

The club’s tour kick started in the stores with Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales Liaison Officer, Mark Lodwick, where they were able to view and handle some fascinating Bronze Age axe heads. Among them was a ribbed socketed axe head found in Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan back in 2013 that was curiously stuffed with another, bent axe head and (seemingly) ritualistically buried.

From the stores, the group moved onto the conservation labs. Conservationists Louise Mumford and Owen Lazzari were on hand to answer any queries they may have when it comes to storing their non-treasure finds and show the club some exciting pieces they are currently working on. One of the most impressive pieces was a Viking period sword from Hawarden, which had been wrapped in textile and showed traces of a horn grip – all of which had been preserved by the rust formed on the sword! When x-rayed, the amount of original metal sword that had been left was minimal, so if the rust had been removed, Louise would not have been able to find the horn and textile traces and the sword would have been indistinguishable. Luckily, with careful excavation the sword could be professionally conserved and the horn and textile discovered – these elements could easily have had all traces of removed if proper procedure was not followed.

Another fascinating find in the conservation labs was a late Iron Age or Romano-British tankard, found as part of a hoard at Langstone that was still mostly in-tact, the wood having been preserved – a very delicate piece indeed!

The club were then able to see artefacts come to life in the art department, with resident artist Tony Daley.

David Hingley believes the visit to the museum was very helpful for both himself and his members: “I can understand the need for detectorists to be instructed in how to handle and store artefacts, and that more literature should be made available.” He explained that he learnt a lot and this new information can be put into immediate practise within in the club. David already keeps his own extensive coin collection (all of which have been processed and recorded by Mark Lodwick at AC-NMW) in acid free paper envelopes – essential for preventing further metal corrosion!

 “All the clubs try to instigate in all their members that you’ve got to detect responsibly. You’ve got to have permission and you’ve got to have the right gear. If you dig a hole in someone’s field – you’ve got to look at it from your own perspective - What would you say to someone if they came into your back garden and dug a hole in your lawn and then left it without filling it? You’d go mad, wouldn’t you?”  But this isn’t the only aspect of responsible detecting and David is keen to promote the other obligations detecting requires, such as the preservation of the objects themselves, “I am continually preaching to our members!”

David feels that more metal detectorists could benefit from taking the time to learn about the role of museums and conservation in particular. “In the field you watch detectorists kick open clods to see what’s in it - they do not seem to understand that it could contain a very fragile artefact a couple of hundred years old; and they break it or they find equally fragile artefacts and put them in pockets and not containers.”

*Saving Treasures; Telling Stories is helping museums in Wales to acquire the important finds discovered by metal detectorists like David, Tom and their club members. For more information on the project, click here.

Hello, Michelle and Alisha here – we are third year journalism students from the University of South Wales.

We are at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, on a one-week work placement with Saving Treasures; Telling Stories. We thought it would be interesting to study a topic completely unknown to us for our work experience, to broaden our understanding of history and how it affects us.

To begin our week, we were introduced to several museum professionals in the Archaeology department and had the opportunity to learn about the day to day running of museums and see all the work that goes on behind the scenes!  

Before working at the museum, we thought that treasure was what we’d seen in the movies - glittering chests of gold coins and shiny jewels! But when we were shown the stores in the cellar, we realised that not all artefacts are pretty to look at and many items declared treasure are of higher historical value than financial reward.

We were able to see the Conservation department, where they work to restore and carefully conserve items for the museum collections. This includes archaeological artefacts, but also pieces from the department of natural history.

After our initial exploration of the museum, our task for the week was to produce an article investigating how museums are funded and how beneficial donating archaeological finds can be to museum collections. In order to create the article, we were set a number of tasks, this included carrying out several over the phone interviews with museum curators from various museums across Wales. With plenty of research, we finally got down to business and wrote the feature, which will hopefully be published very soon!

We have really enjoyed our week in the museum, learning new things. We will miss our new friends – Alice and Rhianydd, who have been really kind and attentive during our placement. We look forward to coming back to visit and seeing new items being declared treasure.

For more information about the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project, in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Portable Antiquites Scheme in Wales, click here.