12 Specimens of Christmas
The Museum holds over 5 million Natural History Specimens in its collections. Our curators have been looking amongst the racking, shelving and within cabinets to find our top '12 Specimens of Christmas’.
1. Christmas Gold, Dactylioceras athleticum, a Jurassic ammonite from Whitby, North Yorkshire.
2. Angel Wing Clam, Cyrtopleura costata (Linnaeus, 1758), which burrows to nearly a metre in sands and muds. The two valves of the clam do not completely close.
3. A festive Robin from our Vertebrate Collections.
4. A Water Colour of the Common Fig (Ficus carica Linnaeus, 1753) painted by Dale Evans, a contemporary botanical artist. The museum holds over 7000 prints and original works of botanical illustrations.
5. Christmas Beetle (Anoplognathus sp.) from Australia. The adult beetles mostly appear around Christmas time. This species is one of the many thousands of beetle species in the collection.
6. A gold nugget from the Mineral Collections, nicknamed ‘the cat’, from Afon Mawddach, which forms part of a large collection recently acquired by the museum.
7. The Welsh National Herbarium at the Museum holds over 265,000 accessioned specimens. This is British native Holly (Ilex aquifolium) collected from the hedge in the museum car park back in 2012. Harry Potter fans will know that this is the wood used to make Harry’s Wand.
8. Parasitic Mistletoe (Viscum album) found in Cardiff in 1929.
9. A British Holly Blue Butterfly, Celastrina argiolus (Linnaeus, 1758). The caterpillar of this fairly common butterfly feed on the flowers and developing berries of holly and ivy.
10. A real star for Christmas: a fossil starfish called Palaeocoma, 420 million years old, from Herefordshire.
11. A Snow Flea, Boreus hyemalis (Linnaeus, 1767), this small predatory insect is commonest in upland areas and can be found on snow covered ground in winter. This specimen was collected by Bangor University around Snowdon in 1991.
12. Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) often flowers from January, but this was collected in December 1884 at the museum.
An Industry Christmas Special
Christmas is almost upon us, and we thought we would bring you some festive cheer from the industry collections.
This Christmas Lego set was donated in 2000, and represents the post-1930 industry collections, and toy manufacture in Wales. The set comprises Father Christmas with reindeer and sleigh, and is complete with its original box. The brand name Lego comes from the Danish words "LEg GOdt" meaning to "play well" and in Latin it means “I put together”. In 1963 British Lego Ltd. set up a new headquarters and factory in Wrexham, Wales and this set was manufactured there. Production at Wrexham ceased in 1977.
This mug, sold in aid of the "1984 Miners Children Appeal", was manufactured by Commemorative Pottery. It depicts a festive scene with children dancing around a Christmas tree hung with miners flame safety lamps. On the reverse an inscription describes that the aim of the Striking Miners Children Appeal Support Fund was to create “a happier Christmas for the children of Britain’s Mineworkers” during the strike of 1984/85.
A Child's Christmas in Wales - Family Christmas Holiday Workshops at National Museum, Cardiff
Inspired by the amazing Peter Blake exhibition 'Llareggub' (Peter Blake illustrates Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas) we are going to be enjoying extracts from Dylan Thomas' 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' in the Clore Discovery Centre and making lovely bags to store our own festive treasures.
As can be seen from the photograph of our prepartations the activity will involve lots of ribbon, shiny bells, the wonderful words of Dylan Thomas and a chance for you to share your favourite Christmas memories.
Nadolig Llawen / Happy Christmas
Conserving some newly found Roman cremation urns and their contents
One item currently residing in the archaeological conservation laboratory is something that looks like a pot, but isn’t! It’s solid and actually made of soil that contains the cremated remains of a Roman who once lived at the Roman fort of Isca, now the town of Caerleon. This was contained inside a pot, but the vessel was cracked and broken so the pieces fell away leaving it's contents intact, held together by the dry clay soil.
Wherever you dig in Caerleon you often find the Romans have been there before you. So, not surprisingly, when digging the foundations of a garage a cremation urn was unearthed. The pot and contents was carefully excavated and brought back to the conservation lab at the National Museum of wales in Cardiff for examination and treatment.
Once the soil had been removed from the outside it became clear the pot was seriously damaged. In damp ground this relatively low fired pottery becomes quite soft and therefore easily misshapen by the pressure of the soil around it. The building work above had squashed our pot forcing the rim and shoulders down inside it, while the sides had begun to bulge out and split like the segments of an orange. It was only the soil around the pot that was keeping it together, so as the soil was carefully removed in the lab, pieces of the pot (in archaeology referred to as pot sherds) started to fall away leaving a complete pot-shaped core of soil still containing the cremation. It even had a cast of the interior surface, including the ridges created by the potter’s fingers formed when the clay was being turned on the wheel.
Once the pot was fully dismantled and cleaned, all 105 pieces were put back together again, some areas were missing and hadn’t survived, but enough was retrieved to recreate the original shape. The pot was a bit reluctant at first to return to its original form because it had become misshape in the ground, but with gentle persuasion and patience it was successfully reconstructed, this did take a few days though.
The surface of the pot was also very powdery and every time it was moved or picked up it left a patch of orange powder behind. To stop further loss the pot had to be treated with a very dilute adhesive to help consolidate the surface, allowing it to be handled safely again.
When new the pot may not have looked orange, but white! There is evidence to suggest cremation vessels may have been coated on the outside in a white clay slip. The surface of our pot was too damaged unfortunately to say if that was the case here.
Was the pot an everyday storage jar selected to contain the cremated bones or was it made especially for the purpose? This question still intrigues archaeologists today, in the case of our pot the rim was badly damaged, but what survived was not the plain rim normally expected on domestic pottery, but a slightly indented, impractical frilly edge which might suggest it was especially made for the purpose. More evidence is required before we can be sure though.
The next stage is to excavate the soil block and retrieve the cremated bone and see if any objects were placed in the pot with the remains.
Un wythnos gofnodi tan y Nadolig!
Nadolig Llawen - Gyfeillion Bylbiau!
Ni allaf gredu mai dyma'r wythnos gyfnodi olaf yn 2013! Llongyfarchiadau am gadw cofnodion tywydd dros y chwe wythnos diwethaf! Nid oes angen i chi gadw mwy o gofnodion yn awr tan yr wythnos gyntaf yn Ionawr, 2014. Gallwch adael eich bylbiau yn yr ysgol dros y Nadolig ac ymlacio tan y flwyddyn newydd. Yr wyf yn gobeithio y byddwch yn cael Nadolig gwych ar ôl gweithio mor galed y tymor hwn!
Rydym wedi cael tywydd ofnadwy yr wythnos hon, felly yr wyf yn gobeithio nad oedd ddifrod storm neu lifogydd yn eich ardal leol chi. Mae'r tywydd wedi achosi rhai problemau ofnadwy i bobl ar draws y DU - gweler y tywydd mewn lluniau http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/feeds/25232374
Dywedodd Ysgol Gynradd Manor (Swydd Rydychen): Rydym yn drist iawn i ddweud bod yr holl potiau wedi chwythu drosodd. Tybed beth yr hoffech i ni ei wneud? Prof.P: Gyda'r tywydd ddiweddar, rwy'n siŵr bod llawer o'r potiau wedi chwythu drosodd ac angen ail-potio. Peidiwch â phoeni bydd eich bylbiau yn iawn os ydynt yn cael eu lleoli yn ddiogel yn ôl i'w potiau.
Os gwelwch yn dda ddod o hyd i fy atebion i'ch sylwadau isod.
Nadolig Llawen oddi wrth yr Athro'r Ardd a Bwlb Bychan!
St. Mary's Catholic Primary School, Leyland: Dear Professor Plant. On Tuesday and Friday this week, we think our temperature was so high because the sun was shining right on our thermometer. It felt so much colder - our teacher’s car thermometer showed 3 degrees. Next week, we are going to move our thermometer to a different place where the sun will not shine directly onto it. Love from Mrs Thompson's Year 1 Class. Prof:P: You've done the right thing here, it's important that thermometers are not placed in direct sunlight or they will show higher temperatures.
Raglan VC Primary: Rainfall on Mon included the weekend rainfall. A crocus bulb was starting to shoot (20/11/13), we covered it with a handful of compost. Prof.P: This is a good idea to keep the bulb warm but as long as the crocus bulb was planted 10cm beneath the soil then you shouldn't need to cover over any shoots in future.
Ysgol Bro Eirwg: Cwestiwn oddi wrth Rhys: Pam mae angen dwr ar y bylbiau? Athro'r Ardd:Ond angen rhoi dŵr i eich bylbiau os yw'r pridd yn y potiau yn mynd yn sych i gyffwrdd. Ar yr adeg hon o'r flwyddyn dylai fod digon o ddŵr o'r glaw. Mae bylbiau yn amsugno ddŵr drwy eu gwreiddiau. Mae'r dŵr yn helpu'r planhigyn i tyfu eginau a pharatoi i flodeuo yn y gwanwyn.
Manor Road Primary School (Lancashire): It's been a blustery but fairly dry week here in Lancashire. Our bulb labels have suffered in the winds but hopefully the bulbs will be snug in their pots! Prof.P: Sorry your labels are ruined but glad your bulbs are safe :-)
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: Tuesday there was a small layering of snow. Prof.P: How exciting! Also bulbs need cold weather to trigger their growth at this time of year - so all good for the bulbs.
Ysgol Rhys Prichard: Tuesday rainfall fell as sleet. Thursday was the first real frost this winter. Prof.P: Again, this is great for the bulbs to trigger their growth.
Arkholme CE Primary School: There are some difficulties on a Monday morning because sometimes it might have rained over the weekend. Prof.P: Don't worry Arkholme - we expect all the schools taking part to have a higher reading on a Monday so this is not a problem.
Greyfriars RC Primary School: hi our bulbs are doing fine and the leaves on the trees in the school garden have fallen. The Scots Pine still has its needles. From Airlie and Athen. Prof.P: Yes the Scots pine is one of our few native plants to remain green in the winter. Can you think of anymore? These plants are often mentioned in carols.
The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: The weather is very varied each day; sunshine, cloud, breeze. On Sunday night it froze hard so even though the temperature was high in the sunshine, the compost in the pots was frozen. Prof.P: this is good for the bulbs at this time of year it tells them that it is winter now and that spring is on its way in a few months.
St. Ignatius Primary School: Again the bulbs have been vandalised over the weekend. The pots have been moved or tipped over. Our janitor is out at the moment trying to fix them and get everything back to normal. We are very upset and disappointed by this but we will continue to look after our plants as best we can. Prof.P: Very sorry to hear that this has happened again but delighted to hear that you are determined to continue. Is there anywhere else in the school that is safer to keep them?
Glyncollen Primary School: We are getting really good at recording our weather data. This week has been very cold. We hope the bulbs are warm in the earth. Prof.P: Don't worry the bulbs will be fine - they like it cold at this time of year. Glad to hear that you are getting good at keeping your weather records it's a very useful skill that you are learning.
Raglan VC Primary: 10% of pots are showing growth of bulbs. Prof.P: I like how you are reporting this. Good use of numeracy!
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: Thursday night seen the area hit by storms. Prof.P: Glad the school is safe.
The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: A terrible storm on Tuesday night which continued with a wet and windy Wednesday. The pots keep filling up with leaves as fast as we can clear them but no need to water yet. The children are enjoying looking at the scales on the rain gauge and thermometer and comparing them to the rulers we are using in maths. Prof.P: Great to hear you are enjoying comparing this will make you super at science. Don’t worry about the leaves too much the bulbs will find their way through the leaves without any problems.
A Window into the Industry Collections
This is the second of our monthly Blogs on the Industrial collections.
At the beginning of this year we were donated a painting titled “Frongoch Lead Mines Nr Aberystwyth”. This is by the artist P.S. Smith and it now joins three other paintings by this artist depicting lead mines of north Ceredigion. The artist was awarded a scholarship to Liverpool School of Art in 1942, but this was interrupted by National Service in the mines. Later he was Head of Art at Cardigan Grammar School, and was co-founder and chairman for many years of the Cardigan Art Society. He was inspired by the Cardiganshire landscape and its buildings. The four paintings in our collection can be seen on our online catalogue “Images of Industry” - http://amgueddfacms/en/industry/images/?action=show_works&item=1034&type=artist
Ian Smith, our Curator of Contemporary and Modern History has recently acquired two items for the collection that were made in Wales.
The first is a Hitachi CBP2038 television set. This was manufactured by Hitachi in Hirwaun in 1983. It was able to show teletext and was one of the first teletext models on the market. It came to us complete with stand and a remote control that slides in and out of the main television body.
These miniature figures were also recently donated to us. A member of the public had visited the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea and noticed that we had a lot of toys on display in our “Made in Wales” Gallery and so donated this "Miniature Masterpieces by Marx" set. The figures were manufactured by Louis Marx and Co. Ltd. of Fforestfach, Swansea in the early 1960s.
Some of our toy collection on display in the “Made in Wales” Gallery at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.
Easel Paintings Conservation at National Museum Cardiff, Winter 2013
Our busy schedule includes several interesting conservation projects which cover several centuries! Currently Charles Reed is carrying out a full structural conservation and restoration of three rare 16th Century panels which portray the Stradling family. We have already undertaken a full technical examination of the artist’s materials and techniques, which includes real gold. In the first image Charles is seen removing layers of discoloured varnish and old restoration to reveal the original painting below.
Loans out to other museums and galleries in the UK and internationally are a major part of our work. In the second image conservator Adam Webster is seen examining a painting by Richard Wilson prior to transit to the US for a major exhibition which will be in Cardiff in 2014. Transporting paintings safely is a delicate art in itself which takes hours of preparation.
In the final image we have Katy Sanders working on an unvarnished painting by Rose Bonnor. The painting has become disfigured by a surface bloom caused by material migrating from the paint film. The bloom is being removed by Katy Sanders using a chelating agent which is added to water to safely remove unwanted material. This will allow us to see this beautiful portrait head in its full glory.
Mae’r coed yn brydferth yn Sain Ffagan yr wythnos hon! Rwyf wrth fy modd a lliwiau’r hydref.
Pa liw yw'r dail lle rydych yn byw, brown, coch, melyn neu wedi cwympo?
Mae'r coed fel y bylbiau gwanwyn yn newid gyda’r tymheredd lleol. Heb fod yn rhy oer yng Nghaerdydd eto, felly mewn mannau mae dal rhai dail gwyrdd. Ond os mae’n oer yn ardal chi gall y dail eisoes wedi cwympo.
85 o gofnodion yn yr wythnos hon - diolch i bob un ohonoch sydd yn mynd allan bob dydd i gadw eich cofnodion tywydd!
Mae'r tymheredd oeraf a gofnodwyd hyd yn hyn yn -1 gradd Celsius a gofnodwyd gan Ysgol Gynradd St Blanes yn yr Alban. St Blanes: “Mae'n mor oer heddiw oedd rhaid i ni wisgo ein hetiau, sgarffiau a menig pan aethom y tu allan i gymryd ein darlleniadau tywydd. Roedd ein glawiad wedi troi'n rhew! Ni’n CARU prosiect hwn, er bod ein dannedd yn rhincian!” Cymerwch olwg ar ble maen nhw ar y map neu edrychwch ar eu tymheredd.
Mae'r glaw mwyaf wedi ei gofnodi yn Ysgol Bro Eirwg - 140mm! Bro Eirwg: Rydym wedi mwynhau casglu data'r wythnos hon. Pryd fydd y bylbiau yn dechrau tyfu.? A.Ardd: Byddant yn cael eu tyfu o dan y pridd yn barod ond dylai egin yn ymddangos uwchben y pridd o fis Ionawr ymlaen.
Eich cwestiynau - fy atebion:
- Culross Primary School. Very cold week - children enjoyed measuring rainfall and looking at temperatures. We also discussed the importance of trying to record results at the same time each day. Prof.P: Very good - this is important for ensuring a fair test!
- St. Blanes Primary School. We are excited to go out into the school garden everyday to check our rain gauge and thermometer! Ysgol Sychdyn: We have enjoyed recording the weather data. Prof.P: Fantastic - you'll be weather experts soon!
- Cawthorne's Endowed Primary School. Hello Professor Plant this is a very good idea. Prof.P: thanks you very much!
- St. Mary's Catholic Primary School. Thank you Professor Plant for sending us the bulbs. We enjoyed planting them and can't wait to see what they look like when they grow. From Year 1 children at St Mary's in Leyland. Prof.P: I'm sure the flowers will be beautiful Year 1!
Kids take-over National Museum Cardiff!
Last Thursday 14th November Year 6 pupils from Trelai Primary School took part in National Taking Over Museums Day - a celebration of children and young people’s contribution to museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.
The pupils worked with Learning Staff and Natural Science Curators at the National Museum Cardiff to help develop content for a new family science exhibition, which is due to open in July 2014.
Pupils gave us feedback on existing science galleries, chose objects for the exhibition and tested some potential activities for this hands-on exhibition.
It was a really successful day and the feedback from the children was so insightful, with lots of really useful ideas that will help inform our planning of the exhibition.
We’re really looking forward to inviting them back to the exhibition launch in July.
More information on Kids in Museums can be found here:
Archaeology Discovery Day
Tuesday 29th October saw many staff from Archaeology & Numismatics take over the Main Hall in National Museum Cardiff for our special half-term Discovery Day. We were overwhelmed with the positive response from all who visited us.
We wanted to give you an idea of a little of the vast range of work we do and see some hidden gems from our collections, which you might not otherwise get a chance to experience.
A special treat was one of our conservators, Penny Hill, working on a large Roman pot from the recent Caerleon excavations by Cardiff University. Normally the conservation work has to take place in a lab in our basement, but she managed to get this wonderful item upstairs for you to see the work being done on it. It was too fragile to be fully excavated in the field, so it was carefully lifted, mud and all, and brought to us. Penny was gently scraping off the centuries of dirt to reveal the pot and its contents of bone.
We’re not usually so lucky as to have a pot so intact. Usually they are broken into numerous pieces, with eroded edges and not all present. It’s like putting together a jigsaw, without the picture, lots of missing pieces, and with the existing pieces the wrong shape. Louise Mumford is also a conservator and brought along some replica pots to demonstrate how she works her magic on them. Our visitors learnt how to look for matching edges and assemble the pots. They also had advice on sticking back together their own broken treasures.
Siân, Jody, Mary, Julie and Alice led art activities based on pieces in our collection. Siân Iles’ specialism is medieval pottery, and she brought out some lovely examples of medieval tiles from our stores. Our visitors were able to see the wonderful designs on them, and how they built up across a floor to form a larger pattern. They then coloured in their own section of a “floor tile” on paper, to form part of a larger pattern which we displayed and added to throughout the day.
Jody Deacon works with prehistoric artefacts, and Mary Davis is a conservator with a particular interest in the analysis of materials, especially Iron Age and Bronze Age metals. They brought out some designs from Iron Age coins, and talked about how they were decorate with the symbols and patterns which meant something to the people of the time. Our visitors used multi-coloured scratch card to make their own beautiful designs.
Julie Taylor does the admin for the section, and Alice Forward is with us for a year on a Community Archaeology placement. Julie is a textile artist in her spare time, and is interested in the memory of places. An archaeological excavation can be like digging up the ghosts of the past – a small trace of someone, a stain in the ground, an unclear, faint picture. Julie and Alice helped the visitors to make “ghost pictures” – the visitors chose an object from our Origins gallery to draw on acetate, which was then transferred to light-sensitive fabric, making an ephemeral image of what you had seen. We have a few pieces which were left behind, so if you see yours here and want it back, do call to collect it.
Del Elliott can normally be found helping you to use the Clore Discovery Gallery or as a Museum Assistant in the general exhibitions. He also volunteers with our handling collection in the Origins gallery. He used a model of the “Celtic Warrior Grave” to talk to the public about the burial traditions of the Iron Age, the artefacts found in the grave and how they have changed over time.
Evan Chapman works with our Roman archaeology, and also looks after the image archive in the department. Some of our earliest photographs only now exist on glass-plate negatives; extremely fragile and difficult for anyone to use. The Museum has received a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn foundation to enable us to digitise some of these negatives, and Evan brought along a wonderful presentation of old photographs of excavations in Cardiff Castle, Llanmelin Hillfort and Segontium, also an archive of Early Christian Monuments from Glamorgan.
Last but not least, Jackie Chadwick and Tony Daly are the A&N illustrators. Photographs are a very useful record, but often a great deal of detail exists in the artefacts which simply cannot be picked up by the lens. Jackie and Tony have produced some incredible drawings, showing such things as the subtle marks left in the manufacturing process and the texture of an item. They also play a large part in the interpretation of a site or object, by illustrating how a site may have looked or an object used, based on the complex archaeological evidence. The visitors could chat to them about the process, see some of their work, and have a go at making their own illustrations.
We could not have done the day without our fabulous volunteers. Kym, Luke and Ciaran generously gave up their time and worked so hard with us to run the activities. A huge thank you to all of you!
The day was a bit of a swan-song for the Origins gallery – the gallery will close in February next year and the collection prepared for the new displays planned for St Fagans National History Museum. Archaeology & Numismatics is now part of the larger History and Archaeology Department, and the new displays are intended to cover the prehistory and history of Wales at a single site.
Archaeology will still have a strong programme of events in this new structure – look out in the What’s On guide for our regular series of lunchtime talks and Behind The Scenes tours. Another Discovery Day is on the cards during the CBA’s Festival of British Archaeology next July, and we are planning a one-day conference for next autumn; dates to be confirmed.
If you want to volunteer with us, you can get in touch with the Museum’s volunteer co-ordinator Ffion Davies.
We’d love to hear your thoughts – what did you think of the day, what would you like to see at the next one, what can we do better? Just comment below.
Bye for now