Amgueddfa Cymru


I actually visited the Mametz Wood exhibition twice. The first time was the official opening, but as I didn’t see anyone that I knew, I spent most of the time hovering at the back during the speeches and the opera recital (which sounded beautiful, but as I know nothing about opera it went over my head a bit), while feeling spectacularly under-dressed next to all the soldiers in their shiny, smart uniforms.

I enjoyed the exhibition itself very much. The work we had done in youth forum had provided helpful context which meant I could appreciate what I was seeing a whole lot more; the Christopher Williams painting was of course a highlight, as was the World War One stretcher and a pistol owned by Siegfried Sassoon, who had fought at the battle.

It was also great to see the work of the very talented Margaret Williams, who I hadn’t heard of before I joined the youth forum, showcased alongside her male counterparts. However, due to the fact that it was an opening, it was very crowded, and being too British to ask people to move slightly aside I missed some of the exhibits. 

I decided to go back a few days later, and this turned out to be a very good idea. This time, there were old music hall and war songs playing quietly in the background. Combined with the ghostly sketches of soldiers, surrounded by their old possessions, it really made you feel as though you had stepped back in time, which surely is a sign a museum has done its job.

It also seems to enhance the sense of the futility of it all. I was surrounded by images and descriptions communicating the brutality, violence and bloodshed, the enormous sacrifice, and in the end, this was all that was left. A pipe, some faded documents, the stretcher rather than the people it had carried, a few old songs, and a collective national sense of loss. It was hard not to feel emotional. All this suffering may have created beautiful art, but the suffering itself hadn’t been worth it at all. 

There was also a video screen showing an actor reading a section of In Parenthesis, originally by David Jones, now adapted for a new opera. Whether it was because of the skill of the actor (whose name escapes me) or all the things I’d just seen and felt, I found I didn’t need to put the headphones on to understand what he was trying to say. 

So, to conclude. War’s Hell: The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art is well worth a visit. And next time I get invited to an exhibition opening, go with a friend and make more of an effort than just jeans and a jumper.  

National Museum Cardiff has an enormous number of artefacts displayed for people to see, with an even greater collection held in storage. Stores are customized to prevent any damage to objects. Storage furniture depends on the size and type of objects, and ranges from pallets to open racking and cupboards with doors. The museum always tries to improve storage facilities, and when a store is refurbished all objects have to be moved.

This is where we encounter problems: How do you move several hundred historic objects, including fragile china, glass and heavy jade, safely without damaging them? Though the greatest of care will be taken, moving objects always carries a risk of damage. An old repair may fail, or a piece may come off a 100 year old Chinese painted plate after a slight touch. The museum has many procedures to avoid such damage. Handling guidelines include holding the artefact with both hands, and not picking up vases by the handle, as old repairs often cannot hold the strain. Notes will be taken of any parts that may be lose or detached, so that they can be fixed.

Should ever any damage occur the most important thing to remember is not to panic. The conservation professional would record, with forensic diligence, the smallest detail to enable the object’s repair. Museums, of course, have procedures even for dealing with accidents. There are some famous examples of museum objects breaking, including a visitor falling into three 17th century Chinese vases. Things may break in your kitchen at home or in a museum. The difference between the two is the way any potential breakage is treated.

By the way, when one of the art stores was refurbished recently at National Museum Cardiff and hundreds of delicate objects had to be moved, not a single one was damaged thanks to careful handling procedures.

Elizabete Kozlovska

Elizabete is a student at Cardiff University's School of History, Archaeology and Religion and volunteers one day a week with the Preventive Conservation team at National Museum Cardiff.

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


Kathmandu University, Norwegian University of Life Sciences and National Museum of Wales

Dr Ingrid Jüttner, Principal Curator Botany, has studied the biodiversity of diatoms, a group of microscopic algae, in the Nepalese Himalaya since the early 1990s. In spring 2016 she was invited by her colleagues from Kathmandu University to join their team on an expedition to Rara Lake, a protected Ramsar wetland in the high Himalaya.

Here is her blog about the visit and scientific work on Nepal’s largest lake in the remote mountains of north-western Nepal.

23 April.     In the morning our team met at Kathmandu Airport to take a flight to Nepalgunj, a town in the lowlands of western Nepal. The following day we flew with a small aircraft from Nepalgunj into the mountains of the Mugu district in north-western Nepal.

Our team was led by Dr Roshan M. Bajracharya, the project coordinator of the 5-year SUNREM-Himalaya Project at the School of Science, Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Kathmandu University. This project is funded by NORHED, the Norwegian Research Council, with a grant held by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås (NMBU), under the leadership of Prof. Bishal K. Sitaula, International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric).

The aim of our expedition was to investigate Rara Lake, to learn about its history, water quality and how the lake relates to its surroundings. We studied sediments, soils, microscopic algae and water chemistry. This will help us to understand how Rara Lake may be affected by climate change and local human activities.

Our team included eight researchers, Prof. B.K. Sitaula from Norway, Prof. R.M. Bajracharya, Dr Chhatra Mani Sharma, Dr Smriti Gurung, Dr Nani Raut, two master students Anu Gurung and Preety Pradhananga from Kathmandu University, and myself.

Rara Lake is the largest lake in Nepal with a 10.8 km2 surface area, a maximum length and width of 5 and 3 km, respectively, and a maximum depth of 167 m. It is situated at 2990 m altitude in the Rara National Park of the Mugu district in north-western Nepal.

The lake drains to the Mugu-Karnali river system via the Nijar Khola. Rara Lake is surrounded by conifer forest, dominated by blue pine associated with several species of Rhododendron, and by alpine meadows. The National Park is home to over 50 species of mammals, including the Himalayan Black Bear and the Red Panda, and to 272 bird species, with the lake itself being important for migrating birds. The lake is also home to three trout species, one of which is endemic.


The area is sparsely populated, but a small settlement including a guesthouse, a health post and an army camp are located at the northern lake shore.

24 April.     After a 45 minutes flight from Nepalgunj with spectacular views of Rara Lake from the air our small plane landed at an airstrip in the village of Talcha at 2700 m altitude. From there we walked four hours to the lake.

25 April.     The aim of this year’s field visit was to resurvey all sites which were first studied in October 2015. The sites were located in the lake littoral along the entire shore, and also included a number of small inlets and the outlet.

Diatom samples were taken at each site from all available substrata to study diversity and species composition in relation to water chemistry and habitat character. The collections from October and April will enable us to investigate possible seasonal differences between the post-monsoon season in the autumn and the pre-monsoon season in spring.

Physico-chemical parameters including temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity were measured and water samples were taken for chemical analysis of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphate, major ions such as silica, sodium, calcium and trace elements. Habitat features such as substratum composition and land use were recorded.

Today we started our field work exploring the north-western shore of the lake and the area near its outlet.

26 April.     Four members of our team rowed across the lake to take bathymetric measurements and to locate the deepest part of the lake in preparation for the collection of sediment cores on the following days. A large deep basin with a maximum depth of 167 m is present in the western part of the lake, the area most suitable for coring.

The other team members walked around the entire lake while taking diatom, water and soil samples along the southern shore. The soil investigations included studies of four transects with four sites per transect located along altitude gradients. Soil samples were collected to study physical parameters such as bulk density and texture, chemical parameters including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, organic carbon, pH and cation exchange capacity, and the soil fauna.

After ten hours we arrived back at the guesthouse, it took us approximately seven hours to walk around the entire lake during which we stopped at several sites to collect our samples.

27 April.     The morning was taken up by sediment coring which had to be completed by lunch time: in the afternoon the winds are too strong and the waves too high to keep the boat steady in one place. The army camp near our guesthouse provided us with a large inflatable boat and four soldiers to row it.

Lake sediment records contain remains of organisms and persistent chemicals which can be used to reconstruct environmental change over a period of time. Two 30 cm long sediment cores were extracted from a depth of 165 m. One of the cores was cut into 0.5 cm slices and will be used for dating. The second core was cut into 0.5 cm slices for the top 10 cm, and subsequently into 1 cm slices. Diatom assemblages will be investigated in each slice. Any major change in species composition along the core’s profile would indicate environmental change within the lake and in its catchment.

In the afternoon diatom and water samples were collected from several sites along the northern shore in the vicinity of the settlement and the army camp. It will be interesting to see whether negative impacts can be detected in this part of the lake due to polluting runoff.

28 April.     In the morning three additional sediment cores were collected, and further bathymetric measurements taken in the eastern part of the lake. The cores will be analysed for trace elements, metals, nutrients and organic contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). After lunch we left the guesthouse to return to Talcha. On the way collections were made along one other soil transect, and water and diatom samples were collected from three sites on the north-eastern lake shore.                                                                     

29/30 April/1 May.   Since our arrival at Rara Lake mist had fallen and eventually was so dense that planes could not fly any longer into the mountains. We had to take a two day, 400 km long adventurous bus journey along a winding mountain road to return to Nepalgunj. In the evening of 1 May we arrived back safely in Kathmandu.

On 3 May I gave some lectures at Kathmandu University about freshwater algae including diatoms and my research projects in the Himalaya and the United Kingdom.

It was a wonderful opportunity to work together at Rara Lake, to complete our fieldwork successfully and report about my research on diatoms. Our project gave us reason for optimism, and the time spent together was uplifting and encouraging after the devastating earthquakes which hit Nepal in April and May 2015.

This blog is about fossils whose beautiful patterns have intrigued us for as long as we’ve been human. These animals survived the evolutionary power struggles of the past to leave their relatives in today’s oceans. They are the Sea Urchins, or to give them their scientific name, the Family Echinoidea - Echinoids to their friends.


A ‘Hedgehog’ by name, but not by nature

Their name comes from the Greek ‘Echinus’, meaning Hedgehog, because of their spines. People in the Middle Ages had the idea that each kind of land animal had a matching version living in the sea; sea-horses, sea-cows, and so on. So the spiky Echinoid was naturally called a Sea-Hedgehog. This might sound daft today, but we still call the Echinoids’ cousins “Starfish” though we know they’re nothing to do with fish at all !


Like little armoured aliens

The bodies of echinoids are really strange, almost like something from science-fiction. Being covered in massive spiny stilts you can walk on is weird enough, but inside their box of a shell they’re even more peculiar. They have a multi-purpose organ called the water vascular system. It’s a central bag of fluid connected to five lobes which lead to many tiny tubes coming out through pores in the shell. These are its tube-feet. It can move them around by changing the pressure inside the bag. They’re very handy for dragging itself along the sea floor, sensing the surroundings, and for getting food to its mouth. Some burrowing echinoids can even stick a tube foot up above the sand to get oxygen from the water.

Their basic body plan has proved to be very well adapted to a life of sea-bed scavenging. They move along like armoured tanks eating up whatever they can find; mostly algae, but their set of five toothed jaws can deal with a varied diet.


Cherished by the Ancients

The beautiful shells of echinoids have fascinated humans for a very long time indeed, maybe because they’re so different from other animals on the planet. Most animals have just one line of symmetry and an even number of limbs. But echinoids and their cousins the starfish can show star-like five-fold symmetry.

We know that this struck many people in the past. Ken McNamara gives the following two examples in his book “The star-crossed Stone” about the rich folklore of echinoids.

The oldest example of a collected and labelled fossil, is an echinoid with Egyptian hieroglyphics inscribed on it about 4000 years ago. It was found “in the south of the quarry of Sopdu, by the god’s father Tja-Nefer”. Sopdu was called the god of the morning star - he was a kind of border-guard god, and it’s been suggested that echinoids were important to the Egyptians in some way in their travels to the afterlife.

But human fascination with echinoids stretches back much, much further than that; long enough for the great ice sheets to have advanced and retreated across Britain four times since. About four hundred thousand years ago in what is now Kent, someone chose to make a tool from a flint containing a fossil echinoid. Most flint tools have two cutting edges, but this one may have been left unfinished on purpose. If the maker had chipped the flint to make the other edge, the fossil would have been destroyed. What is amazing is that this person was not a Homo sapiens like you or I, but either a Homo heidelbergensis or a very early Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis). Other humans were collecting fossils before members of our own species left Africa.

Trevor Bailey, Senior Curator – Palaeontology. This blog was adapted from a gallery tour I gave at the National Museum Cardiff.

The National Waterfront Museum, Swansea’s current exhibition “Forget me not: Postcards from the First World War” features a fantastic selection of all types of postcards from the industry & transport, and social & cultural history collections. One case tells the amazing, but tragic, story of Captain Anthony Starkey of the S.S. Torrington.  

Captain Anthony Starkey was master of the S.S. Torrington. The ship was built in 1905 by William Doxford & Sons of Sunderland and was owned by the Tatem Steam Navigation Company of Cardiff.

On the 8 April 1917 the ship was sailing from Italy to Cardiff to load coal for the Italian railways. Shortly after 11.30am she was torpedoed by a German submarine, 150 miles off the Isles of Scilly. The torpedo hit forward of the bridge. A submarine then surfaced and opened fire on the ship. Capt. Starkey ordered his men into the lifeboats, but the submarine came alongside. Capt. Starkey was ordered below deck of the U-boat, which he did thinking he could save his men. Some of the crew went on the deck of the U-boat, whilst others remained in a lifeboat. The captain of the U-boat then ordered the vessel to dive remarking that “the others could swim”. Through the submerging of the U-boat about 20 member of the Torrington’s crew were washed off and killed. The remaining crew in the lifeboat were never heard of again. In total thirty four members of the crew were killed and Capt. Starkey was the only survivor.

Capt. Starkey was held prisoner aboard the submarine for fifteen days. He was then held in four different prisoner of war camps in Germany, including Brandenburg, Holminden, and Strohenmoor. Prisoners were poorly treated in these camps, and Capt. Starkey commented that “We would have starved if it had not been for the food we received from home. We were there for two months and a half on German rations and looked like shadows when the time was up. Then food began to arrive from home and we certainly enjoyed that. The food in the camps was always potato soup, not always good potatoes, cabbage soup and some bread.”

During his time in the various prisoner of war camps Capt. Starkey put together a ‘scrap album’. This album contains over 55 postcards and photographs, along with German bank notes, and documents such as ration cards, camp theatre tickets, letters and telegrammes.  Some of these photographs show everyday life in the camps, such as meal times and entertainment. This album in on display in the current exhibition, along with other photographs, and two newspaper cuttings pasted onto the back board of another scrap book. These describe the whole story in detail.

“Forget me not: Postcards from the First World War” runs until the 19th June 2016 at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.

To discover more about the First World War collections at Amgueddfa Cymru view this online catalogue.


Mark Etheridge
Curator: Industry & Transport
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