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Over the last few months you may have seen the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories team on social media using the hashtag ‘Finds Friday’, where we’ve been showcasing some of our wonderful treasure and non-treasure items recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru.

This month we’d like to focus on two special finds from Wales: The Abergavenny Coin Hoard and a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes.

Why these two finds?

Both have been nominated in a nationwide competition, held by the British Museum and The Daily Telegraph, to search for the nation’s favourite treasure item from the ‘Top 20’ list.

2017 marks the 20th anniversary since the passing of the 1996 Treasure Act and items on the ‘Top 20’ list highlight some of the most important treasure discoveries since the Treasure Act.

We might be a tad biased towards which ones we’ll be voting for, but we want to share the history behind these finds as they really do have a story to tell, or in the case of Llanmaes, an enigmatic mystery as to what was actually happening at the site. You can read about the 20 items by clicking this link, and don't forget to vote!

Llanmaes

Our first nomination on the ‘Top 20’ treasure list is a site, rather than a single group of objects. The discovery is a prehistoric feasting place and settlement, uncovered in Llanmaes, in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This important site was discovered following the reporting of a potential treasure find by two metal detectorists in 2003, and excavation continued for the next seven years by archaeologists from the National Museum of Wales, assisted by students from Cardiff University and local volunteers.

The story behind Llanmaes

The earliest remains on the site, dating to about 2150-1950 BC, are the cremated remains of an adult male, which were buried in an urn. It seems that this burial provided the focus for later settlement, which yielded treasure objects such as a gold bead. One mystery object in the shape of a great white shark’s tooth has left archaeologists puzzled. We’re not too sure where it came from or why it was left there!

By the beginning of the Iron Age (about 675 BC) this settlement had been abandoned, but the site continued to be the focus of human activity in the form of feasting, which left behind an extensive midden deposit. This is the first known example from Wales, of a class of middens representing remarkable accumulations of cultural material gathered by communities at the beginning of the Iron Age. This has revealed an extraordinary prehistoric feasting mound, containing thousands of pig bones, further feasting vessels, bronze cauldrons, pottery and axes.

Unexpectedly, nearly three-quarters of the animal bones were from pigs – a far higher proportion than is usual for such deposits, and, even more remarkable is the discovery that the majority of the pigs’ bones were from the right fore-quarter of the animal. Similarly, some of the axe-heads are of a type associated with parts of northern France, so it seems as though people were converging on Llanmaes during the Early Iron Age from a wide area to engage in cultural activities which had clear rules and accepted practices.

Feasting seems to have come to an end at the site during the Roman period, when changing cultural practices made the earlier rituals less appropriate, but evidence of continued Roman occupation suggests that it still held meaning for local people into the 4th century AD.

The community at Llanmaes were closely involved with the excavations over the years, and the National Museum’s Archaeology department brought in a number of school groups to work with artists on creative responses, such as performances, inspired by the site.

Abergavenny hoard

In April 2002 three metal-detectorists had the find of their lives in a field near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire where they found a scattered hoard of 199 silver pennies.

The Abergavenny hoard is the earliest Norman hoard from Wales and provides a vivid picture of monetary circulation in the Welsh March in the 1080s CE. It includes 130 coins of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and 69 coins of the Norman king William the Conqueror (1066-87).

Where did they come from?

Norman incursions into Gwent (present-day Monmouthshire) had followed hard on the heels of the conquest of England by Duke William in 1066 and they brought with them the habit of using coins.

The 199 silver pennies provide a rich mixture of issues of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and William the Conqueror (1066-87); there are coins of 104 moneyers from 36 mints, with Hereford prominent.

The coins had been lost or hidden in a cloth bag, after about 1080 CE and for most people living in that time they would have represented several months’ pay. However, the lack of positive archaeological context makes it impossible to judge whether the coins had been concealed deliberately or were simply lost. We shall probably never know quite why these coins ended up in the corner of a field in Monmouthshire but, as well as expanding our knowledge of the coinage itself, they will cast new light on monetary conditions in the area after the Norman Conquest.

And there we have it, our two treasure finds on the ‘Top 20’ treasures list.

The online voting continues until May 15th, and you can vote for LLanmaes or the Abergavenny Hoard by following this link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/mood-and-mind/treasure-20-vote-favourite/.

Looking across Swansea Bay on a chilly spring morning and seeing that the tide was out came with a sigh of relief as this meant we didn’t have to wait an hour or so to get started with our beachcomb.

I joined Swansea Museum on The Mumbles side of the Bay to take part in one of their community projects that aims to engage local communities with their pasts. On this occasion the museum teamed up with the Llanrhidian Women’s Institute and the Gurnos Men’s Community First group to take part in a beachcomb led by archaeologist Paul Huckfield, from the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust.

All wrapped up in extra layers we were ready to begin our trek across the swamp-like beach, luckily most of us received the wellies memo and they were definitely needed.

Paul wanted to create a sense of what the landscape would have been like during the Bronze Age and took us to areas on the beach where some of the landscape remained fairly similar and unchanged.

We’re standing on the actual ground surface as it would have been in the Bronze Age. You can see the peat levels just here show what would have been around in the Bronze Age; you can see that this is black in colour from the trees and bits of foliage. So you’re actually standing in the past at around 4,000 years ago.”

Travelling through time across the bay allowed us to think of what life would have been like 4,000 years ago, what is now a beach would have been a woodland and shrubbery area surrounded with fresh water pools.

Paul talks about some of the reason why the landscape changed and during what periods. You can watch the clip HERE:

Bringing us through time to the 19th and 20th century we were then led to some of the remaining shipwrecks found on Swansea Bay. On the Mumbles side of the bay alone we could spot around 14 shipwrecks and vessels. Vessel remains are still on the bay and these would have been used to protect the area from submarine attacks during the Second World War.

Paul said: “The whole beach is covered in metal uprights and wire to stop enemy gliders coming onto the beach.”

Another shipwreck was part of an oyster fleet. We learnt that the bay was a natural resource for oysters and they were a major food source, some dating back to Roman times, however this source was destroyed during the industrial period.

After having a look around the beach and learning how it has changed through time with different inhabitants we were then given clear bags and told to try and find our own items.

We found a variety of items during the beachcomb from ceramics, beer bottles from London, fossils and different types of slate and stone. The items found today along with others from previous beachcombs with Swansea Museum will be kept and made into a mosaic for public viewing in the future.

 

Swansea Museum are currently working on a project called ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’, which is funded by the help of the ‘Saving Treasures; Telling Stories’ project and you can read about the last walk I attended with them HERE. Saving Treasures is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is acquiring archaeological objects for local and national collections and providing training for heritage professionals and volunteers.

By Rebecca Ling

I took part in a two week work placement at The National Museum Cardiff to work on a project called Saving Treasures; Telling Stories. I wasn’t too sure what to expect as a journalism student or how working at a museum could help enhance my journalistic skills, but I was ready to explore new ways of researching and writing stories and was pleasantly surprised with just how hands-on the placement was.

Saving Treasures; Telling Stories made me realise how I can help bring history to life through researching around archaeological finds and discovering that every item has a past and story to tell.

The first day was an introduction to the department and a chance for us to find out more about the project itself as well as the role of The Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales to find out how that fits into the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project. I was fortunate enough to have a look around, almost a behind the scenes tour, to see some of the interesting finds that weren’t currently on display. I also got to get a close up view as to what was going on the conservation laboratory as I watched the conservators in action!

So where does journalism come into it all?

During my two weeks I conducted phone interviews with curators, archaeologists and metal detectorists before having to transcribe these and write up blogs and articles. We also had the opportunity to film on location at Pontypool Museum and talk to someone whose recent treasure find is now going to be displayed at the museum for the first time. I wrote press releases covering upcoming events and even was invited to attend an oral history interview training course to learn different interview techniques and skills.  

From camera work to interviewing there was never a dull moment and I found myself busy each day.

The placement has inspired me to be more creative with my journalistic skills and to think outside the box, I didn’t know from my first day how I would be able to bring archaeology to life and create current and relevant stories in the public interest.

Overall this experience has made me aware that archaeology evokes important questions that hadn’t crossed my mind before. Items and stories I have worked on during my time at Saving Treasures; Telling Stories make me wonder- Where did this come from? What importance does that piece of history hold? But more interestingly it makes you imagine what life was like during that time period, it's almost as if you are time travelling.

Last Friday we attended the Torfaen Treasure Day at Pontypool Museum, where the latest treasure finds from the Trevethin and Henllys area were presented.

The treasure included a decorative gold finger-ring from the late 16th or early 17th century, as well as Bronze Age artefacts, which date back 3,000 years. The Bronze Age hoard consists of five Bronze Age artefacts, including three socketed axes and two spearheads and these will be the first Bronze Age items to be displayed at Pontypool Museum.

Rt Hon. Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen, President of the Torfaen Museum Trust, welcomed in the event warming up the audience before presentations from Adam Gwilt and Rhianydd Biebrach from Amgueddfa Cymru and local MP Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds followed.

The newly declared treasure was presented to the museum by Adam Gwilt, the Principal Curator of Prehistory in the History & Archaeology Department. Adam talked about the history of the treasure and provided background information so the audience could gain a further understanding of the items. Since the items were acquired by Pontypool Museum with grant funding from the Saving Treasures;Telling Stories Project Dr Rhianydd Biebrach, the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project Officer discussed the key messages and aims behind the project.

The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project is currently working with the University of South Wales assisting student journalists for a two-week work placement where they can use their journalistic writing and interviewing skills to help tell the stories behind items. We thought it would be a good idea to send them up to Pontypool Museum before the event to talk to the curators at the museum and the finders of the treasure.

They spoke to Gareth Wileman, a metal detectorist in the Pontypool area who found the hoard back in November 2014, and asked him how he felt about his discovery being exhibited. While we would have loved to hear from Simon Harrison, the finder of the gold finger-ring, he wasn’t available at the time so a potential phone interview looks likely for the next batch of students.

The students are still currently working on this project and will provide us with written and video content of their interview - so keep your eyes peeled on our Twitter and Facebook account for more content and videos coming your way!

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.

 

Standing on what felt like the top of the world and slowly regaining our breaths back, they were soon taken away again when looking at the awe inspiring landscape of Whiteford Sands in Swansea Bay.

Swansea Museum is working on a project called ‘The Lost Treasures of Swansea Bay’, which is funded by the help of the ‘Saving Treasures; Telling Stories’ project. Saving Treasures is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is acquiring archaeological objects for local and national collections, providing training for heritage professionals and volunteers and engaging local communities with their pasts.

Last week the museum teamed up with young people from Swansea YMCA, The National Trust and The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeology Trust to hike around Whiteford Sands in the Gower area of Swansea Bay. This walk was intended to give us an understanding of the changing landscape of Swansea Bay since the Bronze Age.

The Landscape

Corinne Benbow is a National Trust Ranger and she led the first half of the walk up a very steep hill in order to get the best viewpoints overlooking the beach and woodland areas.

Corinne explained that what we could see was quite unspoiled, she said: “You’re looking at quite an ancient landscape and it wouldn’t have changed that much since the Bronze Age.”

Pointing over towards the coastline, Corinne spoke about how the landscape has slightly changed over the years.

This piece of land is actually brand new and doesn’t belong to anyone as it has only appeared over the last twenty-five years; that’s because of the sand being washed in and building up. The new dunes get washed away and are then re-built back up; so it’s always shifting, but is basically the same as it’s been for thousands of years.”

Hidden Secrets

After a lunch break and water painting session of the landscape, we continued our walks through the woods, over the sand dunes and onto the pebbly beach. It was here where Paul Huckfield, an archaeologist from the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeology Trust, revealed some hidden treasures found on the beach.

Paul said: “We are currently stood on a prehistoric ground surface which was originally a forest. This dates back to the late Mesolithic, early Neolithic age at around 5000-4000 BC. As you can see the remains of the trees around you are still here.”

At a first glance you would assume the trees were drift wood washed ashore, but they were in fact, alder trees almost 7000 years old. Paul explained how the landscape which is currently a sandy beach area would have actually been a woodland area similar to the one we walked through. 

Why were they a secret?

Nobody knew these 7000 year old trees even existed until they were found between 2010- 2012 when the beach lost some of its sand and the trees came to light.

The Saving Treasures; Telling Stories Project is a partnership project between Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales (The FED) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) promoting the portable archaeological heritage of Wales through acquiring finds made by the public. The project secured Heritage Lottery Grant funding in October 2014 through the Collecting Cultures programme and runs for five years.

It will help Swansea Museum to acquire and safeguard items of portable heritage with special significance to Swansea Bay for the people of Swansea. It will also enable the museum to work with local communities to engage with and explore these treasures and to find out more about Swansea Bay