Amgueddfa Blog

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/.

Bydd Amgueddfa Cymru yn dyfarnu tystysgrifau Gwyddonwyr Gwych i ysgolion o ar draws y DU, i gydnabod eu cyfraniad i'r Ymchwiliad Bylbiau’r Gwanwyn I Ysgolion.

Llongyfarchiadau anferth i bob un o’r ysgolion!

Diolch i bob un o’r 5,098 disgybl a helpodd eleni! Diolch am weithio mor galed yn plannu, arsylwi a chofnodi, rydych yn wir yn Wyddonwyr Gwych! Bydd pob un ohonoch yn derbyn tystysgrif a phensel Gwyddonydd Gwych.

Diolch yn fawr i Ymddiriedolaeth Edina am eu nawdd ac am helpu i wireddu’r prosiect.

Enillwyr 2017:

Lloegr:          Carnforth North Road Community Primary School

Yr Alban:        Auchenlodment Primary School

Cymru:          Tonyrefail Primary School

 

Redwyr i fyny:

Lloegr:

Arkholme C of E Primary School

Breckon Hill Primary School

Hemlington Hall Academy

Ladygrove Park Primary School

St Clare's Catholic Primary School

St Michael's CE Aided Primary School

St Nicholas Primary School

St Peter's Primary School

Yr Alban:

Biggar Primary School

Carnbroe Primary School

Gavinburn Primary School

Cymru:

Broad Haven

Evenlode Primary

Glanyfferi

Henllys Church in Wales Primary

Rougemont Prep School

St. Robert's Catholic Primary

Trellech Primary School

Ysgol Borth Y Gest

Ysgol Deganwy

Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Tonyrefail

Ysgol Pentrefoelas

Ysgol Rhostyllen

Ysgol y Wern

 

Clod uchel:

Lloegr:

Coppull Parish Church School

Garstang St Thomas

Hudson Road

Stanford in the Vale Primary School

The Blake CE Primary School

Abbey Primary School

Yr Alban:

Bellyeoman Primary School

Lawhead School

Loch Primary School

Our Lady of Peace Primary School

St Mary's Primary School

Wormit Primary School

Cymru:

Ysgol Tal y Bont

Blaengwawr Primary School

Llangors Church in Wales School

Llanharan Primary School

Llanvihangel Crucorney Primary School

Severn Primary School

St Athan Primary

Ysgol Tanygrisiau

 

Derbyn hadau blodyn yr haul

Lloegr:

Barmston Village Primary School

Barnes Junior School

Bernard Gilpin Primary School

Boston West Academy

Chorley St James Primary School

Ellel St John's CE Primary School

Fosse Way Academy

Leyland Methodist Junior School

Our Lady Queen of Peace RCVA Primary School

Peel Park Primary School

Quernmore Primary School

Saint Leonards Church of England Primary School

St Leonard's RC Primary School

Staining C of E School

Usworth Colliery Primary School

Yr Alban:

Alexander Peden Primary Sch Alexander Peden

Barsail Primary School

Bent Primary School

Carbrain Primary School

Dykesmains Primary School

East Fulton Primary School

Greenburn School

Hill of Beath Primary School

Kelso High School

Lanark Primary School

Law Primary School

New Monkland Primary School

Newmains Primary School

Newport Primary School

Our Lady and St Francis Primary School

Pirnmill Primary School

St Charles Primary School

St Columbkilles Primary School

St Mary's Primary School, Lanark

St Mary's Primary School, Paisley

St Ronan's Primary School

Cymru:

Beulah School

Coedpenmaen Primary

Crymlyn primary

Darran Park Primary

St. Paul's CIW Primary

Trallwn Primary

Whitestone Primary School

Ysgol Pennant

Ysgol Rhys Prichard

 

Derbyn tystysgrifau a phensiliau

Lloegr:

Alston Lane Catholic Primary School

Bacup Thorn Primary School

Belmont Community Primary School

Bolton-le-Sands Church of England School

Coningsby St Michael's Primary School

George Washington Primary School

Trinity Church of England Methodist Primary School

Wolvercote Primary School

Yr Alban::

Abronhill Primary School

Calderbridge Primary School

Glebe Primary School

St Catherine's Primary School

Stane Primary School

West Primary School

Cymru:

Betws Primary School

Castle School

Melin Junior School

St Brides Major CW Primary School

St. Michael's RC Primary

Ysgol Abererch

Ysgol Bethel

Ysgol Betws yn Rhos

Ysgol Bro Ogwr

Ysgol Iau Hen Golwyn

Ysgol Pencae

Ysgol San Sior

Ysgol Tudweiliog

Ysgol Ty Coch

Ysgol y Tywyn

 

Diolch i chi am eich holl waith caled Cyfeillion y Gwanwyn,

Athro'r Ardd

Our collaborations with Cardiff University in the area of heritage science continue to grow. Just before Easter, Daniel Griffiths from the School of Engineering contributed towards our goal of developing monitoring tools for use by museum conservators.

One of the routine tasks of conservators is to keep an eye on the condition of items stored in museums. Being responsible for looking after Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales’ five million objects, the team of less than 20 the conservators have their work cut out. In addition to the sheer number of objects in need of monitoring, for some categories of items there are currently issues with keeping adequate records for comparison with future condition assessments. We also want to objectivise the entire process to enable easier comparison between assessments undertaken at different times or by different people.

Presently, changes to collection items (if any) are detected by visual assessments and recording these in a text form, often supplemented with photographs. If such items are small and prone to chemical reactions, the results of which are difficult to describe, condition assessments are very difficult to undertake.

How do we make things easier, quicker and more objective? Daniel, a student in engineering, undertook a pilot study to create an overview of our options for non-invasive damage testing in geological specimens (specifically, in minerals). Some testing methods – such as acoustic emission, ultrasound, and X-ray and micro magnetic resonance imaging – were discounted early on in the project for various reasons. Any further techniques Daniel considered are based on imaging or scanning, grounded in the assumption that most damage to minerals is visible as changes in shape, integrity or colour.

Initial thoughts on using artificially aged pyrite were replaced in favour of CAD-designed and 3D-printed models of ‘crystals’: one set ‘undamaged’ and a second ‘damaged’ set with deliberately introduced yet precisely known ‘decay features’, such as holes and cuts. Daniel then scanned or imaged these models and compared the results for speed, ease of use, cost effectiveness and accuracy of recording of ‘decay’.

The best results were obtained with the Artec Space Spider, a handheld high-resolution 3D scanner based on blue light technology with easy-to-use software. The downside of this technique is the high purchasing cost of this instrument and software. Mobile phone technology, which was one of the comparative techniques, is not yet evolved enough to provide useful (i.e., good image quality, faithful recording of defects smaller than 5mm diameter) results.

The results of this study are encouraging because they provide us with a good foundation for future development work. There are questions about the faithful recording of colour, especially of reflective crystal surfaces, and combining features of storage, processing and analysis of images through one single computer program.

Daniel was supervised by Prof Rhys Pullin and Dr John McCrory from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering. We thank both of them for their support and cooperation in this project.

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

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.