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Awst 2013

They're flying reptiles ... (not dinosaurs!)

Postiwyd gan Grace Todd ar 23 Awst 2013

Our penultimate family activity has gone down really well, with grown ups and children really getting into this simple activity. Hundreds of visitors have been very creative with pipecleaners, cards and pegs as these photos show. And even more satisfying is that everyone has gone home with the clear learning message that while pterosaurs were alive at the same time as dinosaurs they were a different species entirely!

For even more photos of all our family activities visit our flickr page


Next week is the activity I'm most looking forward to, designing our own pop art inspired record sleeves. My only fear is that some visitors might not know what a record is so I'll be bringing in a record player and some of my records!

Kunstformen der Natur

Postiwyd gan Jennifer Evans ar 23 Awst 2013

Step into a wonderland of colour, a celebration of the natural world in all its artistic and symmetrical glory...

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was an eminent German zoologist who specialized in invertebrate anatomy. He named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many now ubiquitous terms in biology. A popularizer of Charles Darwin, Haeckel embraced evolution not only as a scientific theory, but as a worldview. He outlined a new religion or philosophy called monism, which cast evolution as a cosmic force, a manifestation of the creative energy of nature.

Haeckel’s chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including the development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur  - Art Forms of Nature, a collection of 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations (lithographic and autotype) of animals and sea creatures prints. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904, and as a complete volume in 1904.

The overriding themes of the Kunstformenplates are symmetry and organization, central aspects of Haeckel's monism. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.

Kunstformen der Natur played a role in the development of early twentieth century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé.

Our copy of Kunstformen der Natur [photographed here] is a complete bound volume of all ten fascicules and sits in our folio section. It was donated to us in 1919 by the first Director of the National Museum of Wales [from 1909 to 1924], William Evans Hoyle. Hoyle’s trained as a medical anatomist and developed a life long interest in 'cephalopods'. Our BioSyB Department now holds Hoyle's cephalopod collection [over 400 of them] along with many other specimens and publications.




Haeckel biographical information:

Hoyle biographical information:

All photographs in this post taken by the author.




Barents 5: a few animals

Postiwyd gan Graham Davies ar 20 Awst 2013

#1, the black pudding [1 & 2]

This 10cm long, purple black sausage shaped creature was in a number of the beam trawls. It’s not at all obvious what it is at first but there are 15 tentacles around the mouth and you can just make out five bands running along the body. These numbers suggest an animal with symmetry of five and therefore a relative of starfish. It is indeed a sea-cucumber (holothurian) of some kind and it will live by ingesting mud and feeding on the detritus in it.

#2 starfish and sea urchins [3 & 4]

These represent some of the more colourful and larger animals taken by the beam trawl and the starfish are easily seen on the videos. The muddy urchins you will not see, as they are burrowing creatures that we know as sea potatoes. Close up some of starfish show good protection from being eaten by foraging fish.

#3, too close for comfort? [5 & 6]

In this expanse of mud there are few place for attached epifauna to settle so even the smallest hard surfaces are colonised. The clams Astarte and Bathyarca both live close to the surface of the mud and their hind portions are often colonised by minute foraminifera and tiny hydroids and polyps. Here both have been colonised by a sponge that has taken over a large part of the shell but despite this the clams are alive and well.

#4 who’s in my house? [7, 8 & 9]

These exquisite tusk like tubes are built out of sand grains by the polychaete worm Pectinaria and are very common in many of our samples. But when you look at the opening many tubes are filled with mud and have a central burrow. Opening these you will find the peanut-worm Phascolion has taken over, it will also do this in empty snail shells and worm tubes. The peanut-worm does not eject the polychaete but settles and grows in empty tubes. In image 9 the grey sausage shape is the peanut–worm and the pink worm is the Pectinaria. What happens when the peanut-worm outgrows the tube I do not know!

#5 is it a coral? [10]

Without a scale these little calcareous parasols could be mistaken for a coral colony but the largest does not exceed a centimetre in diameter and are attached to small pebbles. Without the microscope it is difficult to see what they are but underneath the arms of the parasol there are rows of little cavities each containing an individual animal. This is a bryozoan and is more familiar to us in a mat or frond form.

Barents 4 : The Sea of Mud

Postiwyd gan Graham Davies ar 20 Awst 2013

You have not heard from me for a while because there has been little to report in the way of spectacular finds. The Barents Sea, at least the sector we are in, is a plain of muddy sediments at depths of 210 to 350 metres. That is not say that there is no life down there most of it is hidden in the mud and most are rather small and beyond the ability of my camera.

I thought that I should review where and what has been going on. Two images to remind you of where we are [1, 2]; in the second the oval area is the study area. The coloured images show the water depths from brown-yellow-green-blue from shallow to deep. Geologists also survey the area using a type of penetrating sonar that gives a picture of the structures in the seabed. This data is combined with the bathymetry and using this the geologists and biologists decide where to make their investigations [3] .

Two interesting features on the these images [4] : - first the long groove (top and middle left) is the trough made by a massive iceberg grinding into the seafloor probably not long after the end of the last ice age; secondly (middle and bottom rows) all the dots represent pock-marks made by methane gas flowing out through the mud and leaving a depression. It is thought the gas was trapped by the pressure of the ice during the ice age and when the ice retreated this gas was released all over the Barents Sea.

The animals that I am interested in often live around pockmarks but unfortunately most are now inactive. We did visit an area where active gas seepage has been found but we found no specialised fauna from our sampling. This area consists of two mounds [5] created by the slow upward movement of salt layers deep in the underlying rocks, called salt diapirs [6] these sites are often associated with gas seepage and unusual faunas.

Many thanks to Valerié Bellec for the multibeam images.

Having set the sampling grid the geologists using the multicorer [7, 8] take sediment samples and these are also used by a geochemist that looks for contaminants such as heavy metals. Here [9] Stepan (geochemist) washes down the tubes while in the background Sigrid and Valerie discuss what to do next.

You have already seen the video (CAMPOD) and beam trawl in action but the bulk of the quantitative data is gathered by the grab [10] . Andrey washes out the sediment through a 1 mm mesh in the auto-siever [11]; all animals are kept to be counted and identified later back at base.

All this data is combined in a GIS (geographical information system) system and maps of the seabed produced. These maps can show bathymetry, sediments, and geochemistry but here is one for the area off Tromsø showing a combination of sediments and faunas [12] . The faunas are recognised by the dominant species seen by the video combined with data from the trawl and grab. These maps are interactive and can be viewed on the MAREANO web site.

The MAREANO project is very ambitious but it will provide both scientists and decision makers with the information needed to manage the Norwegian Seas. The Barents Sea data will help decide how to manage the cod fishery and the coming oil exploration.

Finally its midnight through my porthole [13]

The Ghost Orchid

Postiwyd gan Julian Carter ar 19 Awst 2013

The Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum is an extremely rare species found in a very small number of sites within the UK. The plant feeds by parasitising fungi, rather than through photosynthesis and as a result is largely colourless, hence its name. It was deemed extinct in 2005 but a new specimen was found in 2009 and was later collected after being eaten through by a slug. The National Museum Wales Herbarium has seven specimens of this orchid, five courtesy of marauding slugs.

The specimen pictured was also cut down by a slug but this is even more rare, because of the way it has been preserved. This specimen was collected in 1982 and placed into a solution of formalin. The specimen arrived on my desk last week and I have since provided new labels, a new jar and it is now in a new preserving fluid of 10% DMDM Hydantoin and 0.5% glycerol increase its longevity and improve visual clarity. By preserving this specimen in fluid its 3 dimensional morphology is clearly demonstrated and the fluid gives it an even more ghostly appearance.

Dr Victoria Purewal, Botanical Conservation Officer

Summer Season

Postiwyd gan David Anderson ar 14 Awst 2013

Summer holidays means its a really busy time for our sites and theres so much going on at all our museums something for the whole family so if youve visiting one of our seven museums, I do hope you all enjoy a great experience over the next few weeks.

I spent last week up in north Wales and visited the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh for a few days. Amgueddfa Cymru has a stand at the Eisteddfod every year and its a great to engage with people and tell them what our sites have to offer. There was a different theme every day of the week and when I was there on Monday the focus was Neanderthal Wales. The connection is that the Pontnewydd and Elwy Valley Caves are in Denbighshire and were the focus of museum excavations years ago. Then on Tuesday we celebrated the artist John Piper and explorer Charles Darwin both of whom were very inspired by Dyffryn Clwyd. It was good to enjoy the cultural festival, meet new people and see some of our heritage partners.

Whilst I was up in north Wales, I also had a chance to visit our National Slate Museum in Llanberis in Snowdonia where I joined Dafydd Roberts and the team there in welcoming Baroness Kay Andrews. Baroness Andrews, who grew up in Tredegar, has just stepped down as Chair of English Heritage, and has now been commissioned by the Welsh Government to write a report by January 2014 on how the cultural sector in Wales can work together more effectively to address poverty.

At Llanberis currently theres a new exhibition which showcases the life's work of artist Falcon Hildred, documenting the industrial landscapes and buildings of England and Wales. The exhibition, a partnership between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Limited, has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I also went over to Wrexham for the opening of the exhibition of the Mold Gold Cape at Wrexham Museum. They certainly know their Bronze Age artefacts in the area and theyve done a spectacular job of the exhibition. Its well worth going to see if youre in the area.

After a busy week which really tired me out, I have been relaxing by watching Ken Loach's film, The Spirit of '45. Perhaps relaxing is the wrong word to use in response to a powerfully argued and moving tribute to the achievements of the Attlee government, and footage of the slum conditions of pre-War Britain that shows why such changes were so necessary.

Mughal India Wall Hangings

Postiwyd gan Grace Todd ar 13 Awst 2013

We are onto our fourth activity of the holidays, this one is linked to the brand new exhibition of  paintings and drawings from India collected by the artisit Howard Hodgkins. The pictures are amazing, with so much minute detail and colour, something that our younger visitors have really been appreciating. So many great wall hangings have been created by our talented visitors this week, here are a few!

Museum Education in Wales

Postiwyd gan Christian Baars ar 9 Awst 2013

Since the late 1990s, when the report ‘A Common Wealth’ argued that museum education needed more resources and a higher profile, there has been a shift within museums. Education is now viewed central to the role of museums and integrated into everything museums do. Museums have always been spaces of scholarship, and there is a clear link between scholarship and education. The purpose of museum education has to be to enhance the ability of visitors to understand and appreciate museum collections.

The new emphasis on learning in museums mainly comes from a change in philosophy within the museum sector, but it is also driven by funders such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, who encourage applicants to include specific learning elements within their projects. It is surely not a coincidence that the Clore Duffield Foundation has funded dozens of Learning Spaces in the past 15 years.

Local context of big concepts

The purpose of the ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project is to lead the way in the implementation of the Distributed National Collection in Wales. This, very much in line with the modern way of viewing museum education, naturally includes a symbiotic relationship with learning. One important way of using museum collections is to integrate them into the school curriculum. Schools should be able to use their local museum as a resource to support their teaching.

In Wales it has recently been proposed to modify the Cwricwlwm Cymreig, and to integrate the Welsh dimension into every subject taught in schools, not only History. In the centenary of the death of Alfred Russell Wallace, who was instrumental in developing the concept of Evolution to explain the diversity of life, schools up and down Wales ought to be able to call on museums for local examples. This local distinctiveness is important in a cultural context; it can also be used as a teaching aid, and this is where the potential of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig lies as a useful integration in the National Curriculum.

There are many positive local examples to illustrate the wider context, for instance Wallace (who was born in Llanbadoc), the naturalist Edward Lhuyd (or Llwyd, after whom the Snowdon lily is named, as well as the Welsh natural history organization Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd), Arthur Trueman's work on Coal Measure stratigraphy, T.N. George's contributions to Welsh geology, geneticist Steve Jones, Bill Frost's 'flying machine', etc. The work of these pioneers could be used to illustrate the subject and make it meaningful at local school level, as well as their personalities heralded as positive local role models.

Education resources

The Welsh Museums Federation, through the ‘Linking Collections’ project, will develop education resources for schools specifically linked to examples in local museums. These will be available online to teachers. Our aspiration is to create digital and web based resources, derived from museums, which are so easy to use, comprehensive and fascinating that they find a place at the heart of education.

Of course, while museums support formal learning, they can do much more than that and the educational activities of museums should not be limited to the school curriculum. Museums provide experiences and opportunities that many people lack; they stimulate discussion and debate; and they provoke responses ranging from joy and pleasure ('I have never seen that before') to disbelief and doubt ('I don't believe it and you have got to work hard to convince me that it's true'). All of this contributes to both our intellectual and emotional education and development and enhances our lexicon of experiences. And because we know that the habits of museum visitation are formed early in life and passed down from generation to generation, schools are ideally placed to support sustainable numbers of museum visits, and hence the focus on the school curriculum by the ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project.


Fish for Life

Postiwyd gan Grace Todd ar 7 Awst 2013

This summer is whizzing by, we are already on week 3 of our busy programme of family activities here in the Clore Discovery Centre. This week we have been making beautiful fish kites to promote the diversity in our seas and oceans. We've been finding out more about sustainable fishing and thinking more about the choices we can make when we buy fish to eat. Some great work has been produced and here are some examples.


We have a great team of volunteers helping us with these activities, the last picture shows some of them hard at work helping to prepare materials for our workshop.


For more information on sustainable fishing go to www.msc.org and for information on volunteering go to www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/takepart


Barents Blog 3: The work has begun.

Postiwyd gan Graham Davies ar 5 Awst 2013

After waiting for 36 hours we finally left port and headed north to the Barents Sea. The sea is incredibly calm [1] and now we are here it is also a strange shade of pale blue, not at all what I expected. All the time we are accompanied by fulmars, sitting in the water on our lee side [2] .

We have started at the northerly end of our transect around 72.5°N. At each station we carry out a video survey of the area using a trifid like camera array called the CAMPOD [3] . It is seen here being brought back into the hangar after its trip just above the sea bed. Inside the control room [4] the operators log all biological and geological features visible on the video displays. Sitting on the right Gjertrude controls the camera while Geno enters data into the log, behind on the computer is Valerie, one of the geologists, who notes the sediment types and out of sight but to the left is the winch-man who makes sure the array does not crash into the sea floor! The sea bed is rather featureless here, an expanse of mud with few animals visible. Too much of this mud was about to appear on deck.

One of the sampling gears is a 3m Beam Trawl, designed to skim over the surface of the sea floor catching the larger "megafauna" including fish. As you can see from the discoloured sea, swollen net and mud on deck it acted more like a dredge than a trawl [5, 6] . The 'mud-larks' (Torjuis, Gjertrude & Anne Helene) get stuck in and are soon satisfied with their work [7] . Cruise leader Lys accounts that none is missing and Geno contemplates having to sort the animals from the mud [8] .

I quite like mud. It usually results in bivalves and I was not disappointed. The large Arctic cockle [9] is the most obvious but most common were, sorry for Latin names, Bathyarca glacialis [10] and Astarte sulcata [11] . Among the other ten, I got two of the species I had come for, over fifty specimens of Mendicula and twenty of Thyasira. You can look at my web site if you want to see more http://naturalhistory.museumwales.ac.uk/britishbivalves/. Perhaps the most appealing are these cushion stars [12] while the sponge is positively weird [13] . The cushion stars are apparently the favoured food of the king crab [14] . The giant was introduced into the region from the north Pacific by Russian fishermen who hoped to make their fortunes but it is turning into an environmental disaster as these voracious predators destroy everything in their advance down the coast of Norway.