Amgueddfa Blog: Cynaliadwyedd

Nearing the four-month mark since I stepped into National Museum Wales for the first day of my Professional Training Year (PTY) placement from Cardiff University, my goal of achieving new experiences in the world of marine invertebrate research is definitely underway. This is now taking form in the way of the Magelonidae, the shovelhead worms, a family of polychaetes with many unanswered questions hovering around them in regards to their ecology, taxonomy and behaviour.

Through starting with live observations in the museum lab in July of Magelona alleni, a rather chunky species of magelonid, my project has developed into some exciting discoveries regarding not only the feeding of these amazing worms, but also how they poo, hence the title of the blog post! As boring as worm defecation sounds, this is not the case when you watch how these amazing animals decide to actually get rid of their dinner (there will be more about the details of this in my next blog post when we have finished working on this interesting behaviour).

These findings have led me down a road of using many new techniques to be able to present my work in a professional and scientific manner. This includes scientific drawing using a camera lucida attachment on a microscope, photography in the way of time-lapse captures, film and image stacking, image editing, reviewing relevant literature, statistical analysis, dissection and SEM (scanning electron microscopy) to name but a few.

In addition to these skills I have learnt much about day to day tasks the museum carries out, including learning methods of curation for an impressive collection of marine invertebrates, holding over 750,000 specimens and having the opportunity to partake in sampling trips to collect more animals for the further development of my project and other projects around the museum. I have also settled into the role of tank maintenance for not only the shovelhead worms, but also some of our resident anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, sea potatoes and prawns. I have even tried my hand at outreach on one of the museum’s stands during the evening event ‘After Dark at the Museum’ with Cardiff University, which saw nearly 2000 people (mainly families) enjoy a hands on experience.

One crucial advantage that I feel I have obtained over these last few months is that I am starting to enjoy a great appreciation for the diversity of life in our seas, from the very tiny, such as organisms like diatoms and foraminiferans to the impressively large, like the young humpback whale skeleton on display in the museum, which I get the pleasure of walking past most days. All in all, my experiences so far have been beyond valuable and who knows what the next few months of research here will bring.

Find out more about how I got on when I first started at the museum

Here at the Mary Gillham Archive Project hub we’ve recently begun ‘timehopping’ on social media.

This involves using Mary’s detailed writings to find out what she was doing on today’s date, so many years ago, and then posting it on Twitter and Facebook (i.e. “on this date, in this year, Mary was doing this…”). It’s an interesting way to learn about Mary’s life history and see the many activities that she got up to in her day-to-day life.

A recent and particularly intriguing timehop posted on 16th October described how on that day in 1982, Mary witnessed the enormous humpback whale lying washed up on Gilestone beach at Aberthaw, near the Power Station.

This sparked the interest of many and after a twitter conversation with National Museum Cardiff it turns out that the bones of the whale are now on display at the museum, right here in Cardiff! This means that you can still visit this gigantic sea mammal today and see a part of Welsh history with your own eyes, just like Mary did.

Crowds on Aberthaw Beach

For those fortunate enough to be there in 1982 Aberthaw, the experience was an unforgettable one.

In her archive, Mary explains that it was almost “impossible to photograph the whale” due to the thousands of people congregating to get a glimpse.

The coastguard had tied the tail of the whale to a large iron post in the ground with ropes (to prevent the animal from washing back out to sea).

Mary describes how she got the chance to hold one of the whale’s gigantic flippers while Piers Langhalt, formerly of National Museum Cardiff, cut the large barnacles from the animal. These same barnacles can be found preserved at the museum, alongside the whale!

One volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Julia Banks, recalls the “overpowering, rotting smell” of the beached whale that she witnessed as a young child. Julia visited the scene with her parents and remembers joining the masses of locals all gathering for the unusual sight, as well as seeing a group of people measuring the whale in order to figure out its age.

Julia also remembers visiting National Museum Cardiff when the skeleton was put up on display, and “feeling proud that [their] whale was in the museum”.

For more of the story and info on how the whale was managed by National Museum Cardiff, why not take a trip to the museum to see for yourself how it stands today?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is a Heritage Lottery funded project at South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre
For more info about the project visit our website: https://marygillhamarchiveproject.com/the-project/

 

 

During the past two weeks our Geology galleries were closed for essential maintenance. Now they are open to the public again, much to the delight of anyone looking after dinosaur-mad 6-year olds, who, quite rightly, have been disappointed by the temporary withdrawal of some of National Museum Cardiff’s most popular displays.

So in you come for a peek of all those refreshed displays. But what’s that? Seemingly nothing has changed?? Everything still looks as it did before the ‘major refurbishment’ – so what was so major about it?

The idea of undertaking maintenance was not to change the displays – apparently our visitors are happy with the way they are – but to update technology and fix things that were broken. This is why you have to look closely to spot what we have been so busy doing. Very busy in fact; including the planning phase, which took several months, we had at least 23 people working on the gallery. It was very busy every day, with staff and contractors working around each other, from the dinosaur foot prints pavement all the way up to the ceiling (which is 12m high in this gallery).

What you won’t notice is that the fire beams were replaced to alert us early and reliably in the event of a fire. You’ll have to look closely to spot the new lights: the spot lights underneath the ceiling are now all converted to LED. You may find that the image quality of the display screens is a million times better than it was before. What you certainly should notice is that the displays are much cleaner. We also repaired damage to displays. As the saying goes: if you touch - we need to touch up. The paint work, that is. And if anyone happens to walk into a display case the specimens inside move sometimes. If we don’t spot this early enough, they can topple off their shelf and break. We used the opportunity last week to put them all back in their place, hence our plea to you: this is now not a race to see how quickly they can be knocked off their perch again, so absolutely no prize for anyone who thinks they can dislodge the displays. Our specimens – which, actually, belong not to the museum but to the Welsh public – are fragile and repairing them costs tax payers’ money, which we do our best not to waste.

There is one thing that is entirely new to the gallery, something which will be obvious immediately to said 6-year old dinosaur enthusiast (and those of any other age, too): the new Welsh dinosaur now has a permanent home as part of our dinosaur display. A life-sized artist’s impression, feathers and colours and all, is now peeking from the early Jurassic back to its Triassic cousins. It is truly magnificent and inspiring, and actually one of the first models to represent the latest research that these kinds of dinosaurs were clad in feathers. The enthusiast in myself wants to add pathos to this announcement, which is difficult to express in a blog. Hence I’ll stop myself right here and simply invite you to come and see it.

Oh, one more thing. While working in the displays in the past two weeks we found countless sweet wrappers, discarded chewing gums and bits of sandwiches and apples in various hidden corners. These kinds of things encourage pests which we don’t want in the museum any more than you would want them in your house. We have the restaurant, café and schools sandwich room where you are welcome to eat, and there are bins in the Main Hall before you enter the galleries. We would be immensely grateful if you didn’t take any food into the galleries.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

Hello. Here is what has been happening play area wise in St Fagans!

Our artists have been talking to curators and visiting our stores. They now know all about the themes covered in the new galleries and are thinking of ways in which they can incorporate them into the play area design. Some of the themes are food, work, fun - which also covers toys and games (that one might work), customs and folklore, childhood, as well as the perhaps not so appropriate - sleep and death.

We have also been talking about language - having text in the play area, maybe incorporating lullabies and sound into it (or is that too horror film?), sound, music, pigsties, beds and enclosed spaces, gates! (we have a collection of photographs of lots of different gates in the collection, all with different names) roofs! washing.... so much we could do, so many things...

Fern Thomas (supporting artist) has been managing to do research into folk remedies for her own art work - she has been looking at remedies for physical ailments from all around Wales which all seem to say 'wrap a piece of bacon round it' whatever the problem is.

Imogen Higgins (supporting artist) has started documenting all the different play areas in Cardiff and has also started blogging about it. If you know of any interesting ones, perhaps you could let us know?

I went to talk to Woodlands Special Secondary School a couple of weeks ago and some of the students there are going to help us with the design. We have our first meeting this week, so I will let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, please share, comment, and let me know stuff you've come across. Will be updating again soon.

In Britain it is estimated that we use 13 billion plastic bottles each year, whilst this has a serious environmental implication, this mass production also has implications for the museums of the future.

Take for example, St Fagans National History Museum, in 100 years’ time what will be on display in the house of 2016?

In our modern society we have come to accept mass produced items as an essential part of our lives. Whilst producing items in this way is cost effective and practical, its introduction has meant that some of these items which historically would have been aesthetically pleasing have lost their aesthetic appeal.

In my room I have chosen to display a collection of bottles manufactured years before I was even born. I am drawn to the beauty and manufacture of these objects, their vibrant colours and slight imperfections. In the past a bottle with a primary function to hold a certain liquid, manufactured of glass could last for years and have a wide array of applications within its lifetime.

Now however, when we buy a bottle of water or fizzy drink, it generally comes in a mass produced bottle made of plastic. Whilst these are very portable they are not generally viewed as being very aesthetically pleasing.

Whilst I may choose to display an old glass bottle, a plastic bottle produced in 2016 would not make it onto my shelf.

Returning to the question of the St Fagans of the future, will they choose to display a plastic water bottle on the kitchen table, the new model of smartphone by the bed or even an E-reader on the bookshelf? Mass production has removed the individuality and beauty from some objects which in the past were manufactured with care.

In the future our culture will be conveyed through the artefacts which we choose to treasure, for some that may be a collection of antiques curated throughout the years but for others it may consist of a collection of modern objects.

The museums of the future will have a very tough time conveying our diverse culture through the use of a select few objects.

The future is uncertain but the choices over what we individually choose to curate will shape the perceptions of our culture in the museum displays of the future.

 

Gracie Price,

Cardiff Museum Youth Forum

 

Sources:

Recycle-more. (2016). Top facts on recycling and the environment. Available: http://www.recycle-more.co.uk/pwpcontrol.php?pwpID=12809. Last accessed: 28th Jan 2016