Happy Birthday Big Pit
Big Pit National Coal Museum celebrates 30 years as a major visitor attraction this year and we celebrated the occasion yesterday in the company of members of the local community who have supported the Museum, staff at Big Pit and the Minister for Culture & Sport John Griffiths who had a tour of the Museum.
Since opening in 1983 Big Pit has welcomed more than 3.5 million people who can go 300 feet underground to find out what life was like for men who worked there. In 1913, one in ten Welsh people were employed in the coal industry and many more were dependent on it for a living – by the end of the 20th century, only one deep mine remained in Wales.
Big Pit employed 1,300 people and produced around a quarter of a million tons of coal a year. The buildings are the same as they were when the mine closed in 1980, but now visitors descend the shaft with a real miner and see what life was like for the thousands of men who worked at the coal face.
The Museum is set in the unique Blaenafon industrial landscape, designated a World Heritage Site in 2000 and is an exciting and informative day out for visitors.
September has crept up on us already and autumn’s well on its way!
It’s been a successful summer across all of our sites, with nearly a quarter of a million visitors being welcomed over August alone across the seven museums. That’s a great achievement and I hope our visitors have enjoyed their experience. We’ve got an exciting line up of exhibitions, events and activities now until Christmas across all seven museums including Peter Blake’s exhibition of works inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood which will be on show at National Museum Cardiff from 23 November. The exhibition will launch a year-long festival in 2014 – Dylan Thomas 100 – which will mark the centenary of the birth of the poet Dylan Thomas.
Last week I was invited to Bologna in Italy to speak at a two-day final conference of the LEM project "The Learning Museum".
“The Learning Museum” is a network project funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme Grundtvig (2010-2013) which aims to establish a permanent network and web space for museums and adult educators to participate in a learning society and in a knowledge-based Europe.
Seventeen European countries and the United States of America are represented in LEM. Its aim is to create a network of museums and cultural heritage organizations, to ensure that museums play an active role with regard to lifelong learning, and to raise awareness among decision makers at national and European level.
The conference was intended as a meeting place to facilitate networking and develop further collaborations at European level and also an opportunity for participants to discuss the outcomes of the project and share the knowledge developed throughout the three years of its duration, as well as giving a chance to share experiences and exchange ideas with colleagues from all over Europe.
Some interesting ideas emerged. It was striking how many of these involved greater cooperation and consolidation in the face of the financial crisis common to almost all European countries. In the Netherlands, for example, there are two museums associations which will now merge. Central, regional and local government are being encouraged by the sector to coordinate their museum policies. Speakers from the Netherlands said that development of a vision for each museum, before governments decided on them, was essential.
To find out more about the LEM project and the LEM reports go to
Museums are Good for You
Museums are brilliant and inspiring places, there can be no doubt about it. People visit museums for many, many reasons. Museums make you smarter, inspire, are a focus for the community and a great place to spend time with your friends and family. But what effect does a museum visit have on you? The entertainment factor of a museum makes you feel enjoyment. Understanding how things work raises your self-esteem. Appreciating the aesthetics of a great object stretches your imagination and is uplifting. And you get all of this in a calm and safe place. People definitely visit museums to feel good and if you need a bit of a lift I would wholeheartedly recommend you visit your local museum.
There is plenty of research to back all of this up. Museums make us happy – museum visits contribute more to wellbeing than arts and sports. Museums, especially if working in partnership with other organisations, can make a huge contribution to mental health (Museum Development North West Who Cares report). The economic benefits of museums are estimated to be in the order of £1.5 billion per year. And while many museums have reduced their own carbon footprints, the role the cultural sector play in driving wider societal change is also growing.
Museums have an enormous potential to change and develop communities. One of the best places to visit in any town and city for access to current research and new ideas is the museum. Museums are therefore best placed for being hot spots of community engagement. In this context, the Museums Association, through their new flagship campaign Museums Change Lives), encourages museums to be more proactive in making an impact on society and people’s wellbeing.
It is hard in the current financial climate especially for small museums with staff shortages, leaking roofs and paint peeling off the walls to continue this work. Fortunately, museums attract some of the most enthusiastic and resourceful staff and volunteers, who, despite these pressures, will do anything they can to ensure that museums continue to be good for you.
The Welsh Museums Federation’s ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project is supporting curators in 20 local museums around Wales. By providing training and information about natural science collections we are going to ensure the continued use of these collections for inspiration, learning and community focus. We are enabling curators to care for and use their natural science collections. This will help to ensure that museums in Wales can look into the future and still make us happy for many more years to come.
3 days to Beachwatch!
BEATCHWATCH – Saturday 21 September
10.30am – 12pm. Amgueddfa Cymru staff will be running fun family activities for the public to help them learn about the biology and geology of Ogmore beach. They will be looking at rock pools, strandlines, rocks and fossils along the shore.This year we will also have a fun ART activity involving plaster of paris and seashells. These morning activities are now fully booked, but you can still come along in the afternnoon to help out with the beach clean.
1pm – 2.30pm. Help with the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean (Open to all).
Where: Ogmore Beach, Vale of Glamorgan. Meeting on the beach at Ogmore beach car park – down the ramp in front of the lifeguard centre.
Suitable for all ages, hope to see you there.
A species new to science!
A new species of marine bristleworm (polychaete) has just been described in a collaboration between Amgueddfa Cymru and the East China Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Shanghai. The species is a type of shovelhead worm, a group that get their name from the flattened head region used to burrow within sand. The new species was discovered in the Jiangsu Province of the Yellow Sea. The new species is called Magelona parochilis Zhou & Mortimer, 2013 and was published this month in the scientific publication, The Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
Haf ystlumaidd yn Sain Ffagan!
Wel, ma gwyliau haf arall wedi hedfan heibio, ac mae hi bron yn amser eto i groesawu grwpiau ysgol yn ôl i Sain Ffagan ar ddechrau flwyddyn ysgol newydd!
Mae’r haf eleni wedi bod bach yn wahanol i mi yma yn Sain Ffagan. Oherwydd y gwaith ail-ddatblygu da ni di colli’r Tŷ Gwyrdd fel adeilad, felly mae’r gweithgareddau natur wedi bod bach mwy nomadig nai’r arfer! Roedd hi’n gyfle neis i mi ddefnyddio ardaloedd gwahanol o’r amgueddfa ac i edrych ar ba fywyd gwyllt sydd i’w ffeindio o amgylch y lle.
Dros fis Awst, ddaeth tua 1000 o bobl i gymryd rhan mewn amrywiaeth o weithgareddau natur o amgylch yr amgueddfa, o archwilio yn y goedwig am fwystfilod bach i’n teithiau ystlumod gyda’r nos. Mae’r teithiau ystlum eleni wedi bod yn hynod o boblogaidd!
Ar ddechrau’r haf naethon ni ail-agor y guddfan adar yn ei leoliad newydd ger ysgubor Hendre Wen. O’n i’n poeni falle byse dim cymaint o adar i’w weld yn yr ardal newydd, ond ar ôl treulio hanner awr yn gwylio’r adar nes i weld 11 rywogaeth wahanol. Gobeithio neith niferoedd tebyg parhau i ymweld â’n bwydwyr o amgylch y guddfan. Mae’r guddfan nawr ar agor bob dydd, felly ar eich ymweliad nesa i’r amgueddfa byddwch yn siŵr i bipio draw i weld be welwch chi!
Ym mis Awst cawsom bach o fraw ar ôl tan fach yn y Tanerdy. Mae’r Tanerdy yn gartref i grŵp o ystlumod Pedol Lleiaf prin iawn. Torrodd tan drydanol bach allan un bore yn yr ystafell islaw ble mae’r ystlumod yn clwydo fel arfer. Diolch byth, nath y tan ddim cydio diolch i ymateb cyflym gan Wasanaeth Tan ac Achub De Cymru. Yn ystod y digwyddiad nath yr ystlumod hedfan i ardal o’r adeilad yn bell o’r tan. Nath y stori hyd yn oed cyrraedd tudalennau wefan y BBC! Diolch i Anwen am y llunie!
Mae’r ystlumod nawr wedi dychwelyd i’w ardal clwydo arferol ac i’w weld yn iawn. Yn anffodus, nid yw’r un peth yn wir am y camera ystlumod a oedd yn yr adeilad. Mae cyfuniad o ddifrod dwr a mwg yn golygu bydd angen camera newydd arnom, gobeithio cyn gynted â phosib!
Mae ystlumod Sain Ffagan i’w weld yn mynd o nerth i nerth! Mae gennym ni 11 o’r 18 rhywogaeth sy’n byw ym Mhrydain yn clwydo yn yr amgueddfa, yn cynnwys yr ystlum Nathusius Pipistrelle sy wedi bod yn clwydo yn 2 o’n hadeiladau. Cyn hyn, dim ond 2 clwyd o’r ystlum yma sy ‘di cael ei ffeindio yng Nghymru. Dyma stori arall eleni nath newyddion!
Eleni cynhaliwyd 3 Taith Ystlum gyda’r Cyfnos yn yr amgueddfa, a bob un yn llawn! Diolch i bawb ddaeth ac ymddiheuriadau i bawb nath trio bwcio ond oedd methu cal lle! Da ni’n bwriadu cynnal 4 taith mis Awst nesa gyda phosibilrwydd o fwy os oes galw! Os daethoch ar un o’n teithiau eleni ac os oes gennych unrhyw adborth, rhowch wybod i ni yma neu trwy anfon e-bost i’r amgueddfa!
Un peth arall, hoffwn roi diolch mawr i’n tîm newydd o wirfoddolwyr sy ‘di bod yn helpu dros yr haf! Trwy gael pâr ychwanegol o ddwylo i helpu gyda digwyddiadau a gweithgareddau, mae’n bosib i ni gynnig gwell profiad ac ymweliad i’n hymwelwyr. Diolch yn fawr i chi gyd!
They're flying reptiles ... (not dinosaurs!)
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
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
#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? 
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
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  .
Two interesting features on the these images  : - 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  created by the slow upward movement of salt layers deep in the underlying rocks, called salt diapirs  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  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  . Andrey washes out the sediment through a 1 mm mesh in the auto-siever ; 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  . 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 
The Ghost Orchid
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