Amgueddfa Blog: Archeoleg

The Bronze Age is full of different types of objects.

The discovery of metal about 3500 years ago meant new objects could be made or redesigned.

One such object is the axe. For thousands of years people across the world had been making axes out of stone. Bronze Age axeheads were then made out of metal in different shapes and sizes.

By the Late Bronze Age (1100-800 BC), axes were made with sockets, which allowed for the insertion of a wooden haft/handle. Often they had loops to secure the haft with binding, such as leather strips.

In South Wales, a specific form of axe seems to have been very popular and has been named the ‘South Wales axe’.

These axes have thick, flat socket mouths and a loop on one side. They are often heavy and poorly made. There are three raised ‘ribs’ on both faces of the axe. These are sometimes parallel and sometimes converging.

Hundreds of these axes have been found buried in Wales, either in their own or in large hoards of objects. Sometimes they are complete and sometimes they are broken; the reasons for this are uncertain.

An example has recently been found in the Trevithen Hoard, Torfaen, and is currently on display at Pontypool Museum.

South Wales axes have also been found across England, and as far away as northern France.

This implies these products were traded and exchanged over long distances.

The function of these axes is unclear. These axes may have been left in a rough condition because they were used in agricultural activities, such as cutting roots and breaking plough soil.

Whatever the reason they appear to have formed an important part of the Late Bronze Age in South Wales. As more are discovered, archaeologists will continue to gain insights into these objects.

 

Working at Amgueddfa Cymru’s History and Archaeology department over the last few months has revoked my interest in history… and even my own heritage.

One of the many benefits of working in the department is being able to preview the work by the staff of the museum’s Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project; the project highlights our nation’s treasures. It’s both a delight and eye-opener to see the objects collected by the museum, which hold more value than gold (from which some are made of), as these treasures stir our interest, provide us with knowledge… and can even fill us with pride when acknowledging that their roots lie in Wales.

A few weeks ago, museums across the UK were involved in #TakeOverDay; a day when social media pages were voluntarily taken over by youth community groups and schools.

Saving Treasures gladly took part and had young people to voice what they believed was treasure, then they got to ask the public what they considered as treasure. I know it’s a bit late but I thought I’d have a go at writing this blog to mention mine.

So, what’s my “treasure”?

It’s difficult for me since I’m not what you’d call a “materialistic” person but if you were to put me on the spot I’d have to say one of my top treasures would be... the collection of family photographs.

Why?

It comes down to a combination of my love for photography and my interest in family history.

I began my photographic love affair nearly a decade ago and my relationship with the art form is still as strong as ever after achieving a degree from the University of South Wales last year.

Though the end results from a simple photograph can give us a brief glimpse into the past, the cherished family photograph can give us much more; there’s more feeling towards an old family photograph than there is for an Ansel Adams… or should I dare say a photographic depiction of Wales by David Hurn!

More of these treasured photographs and the stories behind them can be found via my blog: https://merthyrranter.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/the-treasures-that-lie-in-a-biscuit-tin/

Happy Day of Archaeology everyone!

Today, the 28th July 2017, is the annual online event in which archaeologists from across the country blog about archaeology. The idea is to showcase the diversity of the subject and highlight what individuals are doing on and around this day.

This year we’ve badgered people from across the museum to contribute posts on who they are and how they engage with archaeology through their various research and projects and on a daily basis.

We have been amazed by the positive response, not just from within History and Archaeology but from a whole range of disciplines. The topic of posts thus ranges from prehistoric Cardiff to botany to archaeological curation to snails! It really shows how broad and varied archaeology truly is, beyond the traditional view of woolly jumpers, beards, and whips (though it has been known!)

These posts are all hosted on the external site: www.dayofarchaeology.com and links to blogs from our staff are listed below and will be added to throughout the day.

We hope you enjoy!

Adam GwiltAn Archaeological Curator’s Day / Diwrnod ym mywyd Curadur Archaeolegol

Dr. Rhianydd Biebrach The Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project

Dr. Ben RowsonSnails at Snail Cave, and elsewhere in Wales

Jonathan Howells - From Housing to History and Archaeology

Kristine Chapman - Rare Books from the National Museum Wales Library

Sarah Parsons - Photographing Archaeology

Dr. Heather PardoeHarold Augustus Hyde’s Contribution to Welsh Archaeology

Dr. Elizabeth WalkerContemplating and communicating the Palaeolithic landscapes of Wales

Sian IlesMarvellous medieval tiles-public engagement at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales

Matt KnightA Day in the Life of an Archaeology Intern / Diwrnod ym mywyd Archaeolegydd preswyl

 

 

People have been hoarding objects for thousands of years.

People still do it today, but its origins lie in prehistory. This was very common in the Bronze Age (around 3000 years ago) when people collected items, such as weapons and tools, and buried them in pits and ditches. 

Hoards may contain only three or four objects, or up to fifty or more. The largest Bronze Age hoard currently known in Britain contains over 6500 objects! Many hoards have been found in Wales recently and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. This greatly adds to our understanding of prehistoric Wales.

Most recently, the Trevethin hoard from Torfaen has caught media attention, containing three axes and two spearheads. Other hoards have recently been found in the Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, and Monmouthshire.

Buried objects include swords, spears, axes, and ingots of raw metal. Sometimes these objects were buried complete and pristine, while others were deliberately broken, burnt and bent before being put in the ground.

Many questions surround this practice.

Why were so many objects buried?

Why were some objects broken, while others were left intact?

Were hoards for religious purposes (e.g. as an offering)? Or did they act as stores of raw material that were lost?

It’s unlikely we will ever truly know the answers to these questions, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, archaeologists can speculate based on how and where the hoard was buried and by comparing it to known historical periods in which hoarding was also practiced.

For instance, many hoards in Roman and Medieval times were deposited for safe keeping, during times of unrest. Meanwhile, objects deposited on hilltops or in rivers may have been symbolic markers within the landscape.

We can also think about what people do with objects today.

Some people collect objects for a hobby, such as stamps, coins, or shot glasses. Sometimes it’s for a specific purpose, such as preserving heritage – museums are an excellent example of this.

Similarly, items might be destroyed or discarded for a variety of reasons, such as eliminating a memory, commemorating the death of a friend or family, or simply as waste. Of course we can’t forget that sometimes objects might simply be lost.

Whatever the reason, hoarding formed an important tradition in Bronze Age Wales. With every new discovery, archaeologists get one step closer to understanding prehistoric ideas and values.

The Trevethin hoard is one of several hoards that was responsibly reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru. It is now proudly on display at Pontypool Museum where it can be enjoyed by all members of the public. It was acquired with funding from the Saving Treasures: Telling Stories Project. More details on how the hoard was investigated, as well as a conversation with the finder, Gareth Wileman, can be found here.

Archaeologists have made a significant Bronze Age discovery in the Torfaen area of south Wales, which will help people to understand communities living in Torfaen around 3,000 years ago.

A Bronze Age hoard was discovered by local metal detectorist, Gareth Wileman, in November 2014 while metal-detecting in the area of Trevethin, Torfaen. The hoard consists of five Bronze Age artefacts, including three socketed axes and two spearheads; this discovery was subsequently declared as treasure in 2016 by H.M. Coroner for Gwent.

The Bronze Age artefacts, which date back 3,000 years, were the first of their kind to be displayed in Pontypool Museum after being presented as part of the Torfaen Treasure Day on Friday, 7 April 2017.

The Rt. Hon Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen, President of the Torfaen Museum Trust, opened the event, followed by guest speakers from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and local MP, Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds.

The Bronze Age hoard has sparked media interest and you can read articles from the BBC, ITV and South Wales Argus to name a few.

We sent our journalism students who were on a two week work placement with the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project to Pontypool Museum to interview the finder; Gareth, and find out how he feels about his discovery.

He said:

“I’m glad they’re being displayed somewhere smaller like Pontypool, especially as it provides new information on what life could have been like here thousands of years ago. Everyone knows about the mining times and that’s what Pontypool is known for, the Big Pit.

“Obviously this will now show that 3,000 years ago there was more happening up here than what people thought, and I think now Pontypool could be known for having Bronze Age artefacts and an older history.”

Gareth started metal detecting after coming across a YouTube video, he said:

“I had done a bit of metal detecting when I was a lot younger. I had found small cheap things like 20 pence when I used to do it in the garden.

“I started reading more about metal detecting and metal detectors. Then I went and bought one and started going out with it.”

His first find was a 1927 silver Florian coin, which inspired him to pursue his hobby. One aspect Gareth was keen to encourage was the need to report your findings as soon as possible to the museum or your closest Finds Liaison Officer. He wants others who take up metal-detecting to let the museum know if they find something as it could have historical importance.

“Anything you find then you should just let the museum know otherwise it could end up anywhere. The worst thing about it is when people find stuff that others would love to see, but it ends up being sold or put into a private collection.

“Not necessarily everything is interesting, but it’s good to know that it has been found and where it was found and then museums can take it from there.”

 

“The Trevethin hoard is a significant Bronze Age discovery in this area of Wales, where little was previously known. The quick reporting to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales by Gareth enabled us to carefully excavate the find-spot and ensured that we can now better understand these communities living in the Torfaen area 3,000 years ago.” -Mark Lodwick Co-ordinator of the Portable Antiquities Scheme for Wales (PAS Cymru)

 

The hoard is being acquired by Pontypool Museum with grant funding from the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project. This project, funded via the Collecting Cultures programme of the Heritage Lottery Fund, is acquiring archaeological objects discovered by members of the public for public museum collections across Wales. The project is also encouraging communities to engage with their pasts and portable archaeological heritage, by funding a programme of community archaeology projects led by staff in museums throughout Wales.