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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

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales has loaned 25 photographs from the John Dillwyn Llewelyn collection for the exhibition, A Moon and a Smile, which runs from 4 March to 23 April 2017 at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. The exhibition responds to a period in the 1840s and 1850s, when Swansea was at the centre of early experiments in photography worldwide. In particular, the Dillwyn family circle was prolific in the development of photography, especially Mary Dillwyn and John Dillwyn Llewellyn.

Commissioned by the Glynn Vivian, the exhibition features new work by nine international artists including Helen Sear, Anna Fox, Sharon Morris and Sophy Rickett, alongside a display of 19th century photography by members of the Dillwyn family circle. The commissions have been created in response to collections held at Amgueddfa Cymru, National Library of Wales and Swansea Museum.

Amgueddfa Cymru’s involvement in the exhibition began back in February 2015, when Mark Etheridge (Curator: Industry & Transport) led a workshop on the photography of the Dillwyn Llewelyn family held at the National Collections Centre, Nantgarw. The workshop focused on the work of John (a Welsh pioneer in early photography), but especially the photography of his sister Mary Dillwyn and his daughter Thereza, two of the first female photographers in Wales.

This link is for the exhibition page at the Glynn Vivian 

You can find out more about John Dilwyn Llewelyn and the collection here

 

The Lure of the Archive symposium

To coincide with the opening of the exhibition, The Lure of the Archive symposium was organised by Falmouth University in conjunction with the exhibition A Moon and a Smile. Through presentations and discussions the symposium explored the challenges and strategies of artists, curators and writers in approaching and engaging with historic photographic collections and archives. Bronwen Colquhoun (Senior Curator of Photography) and Mark Etheridge participated in this symposium, and talked about both the Art and Industry photographic collections. The symposium was held on the 4th March 2017 at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery.

Speakers included exhibiting artists – Greta Alfaro, Anna Fox, Astrid Kruse-Jensen, Neeta Madahar and Melanie Rose, Sharon Morris, Sophy Rickett, Helen Sear, Patricia Ziad; and Helen Westgeest, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History and Photography Theory, Leiden University; writer, curator and artist, David Campany Westminster University; Bronwen Colquhoun, Senior Curator of Photography, National Museum Wales; Mark Etheridge, Curator, Industry and Transport, National Museum Wales; Paul Cabuts, Director, Institute of Photography, Falmouth University; Jenni Spencer-Davies, Director, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Katy Freer, Exhibitions Organiser, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and freelance curator Kate Best.

The Voices from the Archives series is based on recordings in the Oral History Archive at St Fagans National History Museum. Connected to the agricultural activities, demonstrations and displays at the Museum - they provide an insight into the lives and histories of farming people, the agricultural practices in the past, how they developed into contemporary agriculture.

Lambing in Pembrokeshire, 1984

March is lambing time at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm, the Museum’s working farm. Lambing in the past and present was described by Richard James, Portfield Gate, Pembrokeshire, south west Wales, in a recording made in 1984. Aged 79, he recalled lambing in an interview about his life in farming, but also described how it was being done on a farm in the area in the year of the interview. The following short clips are from the recording.

Pembrokeshire born and bred, Richard James had farmed at Lambston Sutton in the south west of the county. It stood between the large county town of Haverfordwest a few miles to the east, and the coastline of St Bride’s Bay to the west. The lowland coastal areas, warmer climate and lower rainfall made agriculture more diverse than in many other parts of Wales, with the keeping cattle and sheep and the growing of early potatoes and cereal crops. The coastal areas could be exposed to the winds and rain from the Atlantic Ocean though, and weather conditions could strongly influence lambing, to which Richard James refers in the first clip:

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Sir Benfro

When lambing was to take place was decided by when the ewes were put to the rams. Up until then the rams on the farm had to be kept separate from the sheep. It was always a concern that rams might break through a poor fence or hedge and cause lambing to start at the wrong time. Also, a ram of poorer quality or a different breed from another flock could also result in poorer quality lambs and reduced income. After mating, a ewe is pregnant for between 142 and 152 days, approximately five months or slightly shorter.

In this clip, Richard James describes at what time of year lambing took place on a local farm, and how it was being done by a farmer using a former aircraft hangar.

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Sir Benfro

The final clip is about working the day and night shifts:

Richard James, Portfield Gate, Sir Benfro

 

We are very pleased to announce that we have a new arrival! Bryn the Sumatran Tiger.

He spent his life at The Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay and was one of its most iconic residents. In his lifetime he gave pleasure to all of the zoo’s visitors, helping to raise the profile of the plight of his species, as Sumatran Tigers are critically endangered. He had a relaxed and amiable personality and so was a key part of The Welsh Mountain Zoo’s 'Keeper for the Day' and 'Animal Encounter' experiences. He sadly died of natural causes in August 2016 at the grand age of 17, which is pretty good for a tiger. He has been portrayed in a natural walking position as if prowling through the jungle looking for prey. He certainly gave our security staff a few frights when he arrived! Standing by him you get a real feeling of the beauty and power of these amazing animals.

Sumatran Tigers only live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and are the subject of intensive worldwide conservation efforts to save the species. Their numbers have declined drastically over recent years despite these efforts and it is estimated that less than 400-500 tigers remain in the wild. Habitat loss, illegal trade and lack of food have all contributed to this decline. Millions of acres of their forest habitat are cut down every year to make way for intense crop plantations such as palm oil and acacia. This means there is less prey for them to hunt, and that tiger populations have become fragmented, further risking the recovery of the species. The illegal trade in tiger parts is still common despite full national and international protection and tiger parts are openly sold on the island.

But why have a Sumatran Tiger in a Welsh museum? Why have stuffed animals at all? This is a really common question that we are asked at the museum. Museums play an important role as storehouses for biodiversity, keeping a record of a species for posterity. For example we have extinct animals like the Tasmanian Wolf and Great Auk in our collections, we even have a Dodo skeleton. With wild Sumatran tiger numbers as low as they are, it is pertinent now more than ever, to keep a record of this species.

Often museums are one of the first places that people are able to encounter wildlife up close. This puts us in a fantastic position to talk about threatened wildlife, not just abroad, but on our own doorstep. Remember, it is not just exotic species in far-flung places that are in trouble. So we use these iconic specimens to grab your attention and talk about a whole range of issues affecting wildlife around the globe. We want to make our visitors more aware of the natural world around them and to empower them to take a more active role in both enjoying and preserving it.

Bryn will feature at our International Tiger Day on July 29th 2017, so you will have the opportunity to come and see this enigmatic creature up close. So come along, take part in some activities, learn more about what museums do with their collections and what you can do to help tigers like Bryn get off the endangered list!

You can learn more about Sumatran Tigers and what the WWF are doing to protect them here.

You can learn more about protecting British wildlife by looking on The Wildlife Trust website, and RSPB website.

You can learn more about the Vertebrate collections at the museum here.

 

 

We wrote of dust before, for example here and here. The museum is like your home, dust gathers everywhere. Unlike my own house though, the museum is very, very big. The museum's dust problems are correspondingly large.

Last year a student from Cardiff University, Stefan Jarvis, undertook a dust monitoring project in the museum. Stefan was studying for an MSc in Care of Collections, which is a subject very close to my heart. Stefan is also the author of one of our guest blogs. Stefan placed a large number of dust traps around the museum building: in stores and exhibition galleries. You may be familiar with some of the galleries he investigated: our Geology gallery with the dinosaurs, the current “Wriggle” exhibition on worms, the Whale gallery and the Organ gallery where we display some of the largest paintings in the museum.

Collecting dust is really easy: prepare a sampler. Leave it out in a suitable location. Wait. For. Four. Weeks.

Once Stefan had gathered some dust he analysed the samples: he identified each particle under the microscope and determined where they all came from. This is where things started getting really interesting. For while undertaking scientific investigations are often laborious and involves much routine work, the results are often extremely illuminating.

This is what Stefan found:

  • More dust accumulates in areas of high traffic (i.e., many people walking past).
  • More dust accumulates at low levels (the closer you get to floor level the more dust you will find).
  • Dust composition differs between spaces. For example, most dust fibres in a library store are paper fibres, while most fibres in public galleries are textile fibres, hair and skin.
  • We found biscuit crumbs on the dust samplers in two galleries. This indicates that food was being consumed in these galleries.

Now, we love having people in the museum. In fact we undertake some of our collection care work during museum opening hours so that you can see what we are up to a lot of the time. Therefore, we are happy to accept that visitors always leave us a little reminder that they have been, in the form of a few dust particles. You can feel a ‘but’ coming on: but we do not encourage the eating of biscuits (or any other foodstuffs) in our galleries. Eating food in our galleries bears the risk of small amounts of food ending up on the floor, in displays, behind cupboards - or, as part of dust. Food encourages the spread of pest insects which, once they have eaten all the available biscuit crumbs, then start munching our collections. This is not something we endorse, because we try to preserve our collections for you to enjoy.

This means you can actually help us preserve the collections - by not eating in the galleries. We will be doing more work on this in the near future, by encouraging visitors to consume food in our fabulous restaurant or cosy cafe, not in galleries. In the meantime, we really do appreciate your cooperation and understanding for our no-food-in-galleries policy.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.