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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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The Bute family

The Castle passed through many noble families until, passing by marriage in 1766, came to the hands of the 2nd Marquess of Bute. After turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port for it’s time he left the Cardiff Castle to his son, the 3rd Marquess of Bute who, in 1860, was reputed to be the richest man in the world. He also transformed the building that was given to him, into the majestic Castle we all know, beginning its transformation in 1865. It was back then when the 18 year old Marquess of Bute met the Gothic Revival architect William Burges. In the next 16 years their combined genius and the work of the finest craftsmen in Wels created the remarkable building that still exists. Beginning with the restoration of the South Gate and continuing with the Clock Tower and many of the rooms in the building, Burges left his mark on the entire castle.

Even after the death of William Burges in 1881 the work continued because of his detailed drawings of everything from exterior to interior and the help of his former assistant William Frame. Frame was responsible for the Animal Wall and for the restoring of the newly discovered Roman remains. After it was finished, the castle was used for about six weeks a year, when the Marquess would spend time in Cardiff. After the 3rd Marquess died in 1900 he left the estate to his son, John, who went on to complete a number of his father’s restoration projects.

During the Second World War the Castle largely escaped enemy action, although two adjacent lodges were destroyed, and the outer walls were used as air-raid shelters, capable of holding nearly 2000 people.

In 1947 the Castle was given to the people of Cardiff by the 4th Marquess of Bute, naming him to be the ‘man who sold a city’ after he sold out the remaining Bute family estate in Cardiff.