Visit to the National Museum, Cardiff

by Dimana Markova

As the excavations were on a scheduled ancient monument and potentially all finds that we discovered would be of a significant nature, GGAT worked closely with The National Museum of Wales Cardiff, who carried out initial finds identification. An invitation has been provided to myself to go a look at the most interesting ones.
I was welcomed by Evan Chapman – a senior curator in Cardiff Museum. After greeting me, we went to the offices of the Museum, a labyrinth underneath the public section of the building where everything that isn’t part of the ongoing exhibitions is being kept. He had already prepared for me quite a few large containers filled with small boxes, each labelled with a number and carefully put in paper. Some of the finds I was looking at were so fragile I barely had the courage to touch them, fearing I might delete history or at least get myself kicked out before I have seen all of the finds

 

While carefully looking through things, such as a toilet set, brooches, bracelets, keys and belts I couldn’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like. Mr Chapman fills in some of the gaps for me, giving me details such as the fact that only in Wales are those brooches so common, or that those specific bells were only used for horses and specifically for the cavalry’s horses.He helps me see how what I am looking at was once a toilet set containing nail cleaners, tweezers and a sheet rivet.

 


As I am admiring a small figure of a bird I ask him what he thinks is the most interesting find from this excavations.

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He gives me an excited look and I immediately know he’s about to show me something more extraordinary than the bird I am admiring so much. From a medium sized box he takes out an object that doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before, he puts it in front of me and waits for my question.

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I naturally ask him what this is, to which simply replies ‘Nobody knows’. I am stunned, because not only has he shown me so many things, that barely looked like objects which he knew exactly what they were and even shared quite specific details about them. This object was covered in mud and corrosion products when discovered, but has been conserved by Phil Parkes, Cardiff University, so that it can be studied in more detail. It is the only one found it Wales so far, yet there are a few that have been found across the UK. Some believe it was part of a surveillance system, others that it was a candle holder and the ones with the most vivid imagination say it is a magical object used for some kind of sorcery in the Roman period. Mr Chapman even jokingly says “it might be a spaghetti measurer, for all we know!”. However none of those theories quite adds up and maybe only the magical one explains its preserved condition and the fact it is so rare.

After this Mr Evans shows me some other finds, including pottery and things that have not yet been examined. He explains to me that the whole process of examining each individual object takes up a lot of time as they have to x-ray each one to see what there is inside the oxidised crust and then proceed to clean it.

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As we go back through the labyrinth corridors I ask him if he thinks that someday what we considered normal for our everyday life objects would be in a museum, if scientists would wander what something, that we know see as trivial, was used for. He nods and tells me that he hopes it will be in a museum.

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