Archaeology, History

Roman meets Medieval at Cefn Caer

Last weekend I visited Cefn Caer Medieval Hall House and Roman Fort near Machynlleth, on the western Welsh coast. After a tip-off from a local antiques dealer who had a keen interest in archaeology and a lovely antiques shop in Machynlleth, my group sought out the house (a roadside signpost is coming shortly!) after making a telephone appointment for a tour. Arriving without really knowing what to expect, we were blown away by the Medieval house and its inspiring and engaging owner, Elfyn Rowlands, which was built upon the site of a Roman Fort in the 14th century. The building is now grade II* listed and the attached barn grade II, mainly thanks to the tireless restoration work by Elfyn and its links with Owain Glydwr, and it was interesting to hear about the challenges faced when living in such an important historic house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: www.cefncaer.com

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: http://www.cefncaer.com

Rowlands was enthusiastic and fascinating – and a real character too! It was inspiring to see the work he had put into the restoration of his family home and the energy and wit he injected into his tours. He was keen to show us reconstructions of two beautiful – and intact- roman vases that he had found in the grounds of he house. The originals are now on display at the National Museum in Cardiff, who commissioned the painstakingly scaled and painted reconstructions for Cefn Caer.

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

The interior of the house is steeped in history in every corner and the smell of the wood and smoke help create an immersive authenticity. The tour was a real delight and well worth a visit if around those parts. The Cefn Caer website with more information and directions can be found here.

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Archaeology

Fragments of Samoa

Yesterday I was working with trainee museum curator Kiera Gould on some of the Samoan ethnographic artefacts that the Manchester Museum has in its collection. Below are two examples of these, an intricately carved wooden fan and a hank of tobacco which has been packed for trade and was purchased by the Museum in 1918.

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Samoa, since becoming independent of New Zealand in 1962, is an independent country consisting of about half of the chain of Samoan Islands in the South Pacific.  The other half of the chain forms American Samoa, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Samoa has some fascinating archaeology – particularly the wealth of prehistoric stone tools which have been found there. Leading New Zealand archaeologist Janet Davidson was among the first to pioneer Samoan archaeology when she excavated there in the late 1960s. Discover more about her finds and the archaeological collection at the Museum of Samoa here.

In other news, the piece of research I’m embarking on with fellow archaeology students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh together with University of Manchester lecturer Dr. Hannah Cobb (link to previous post) is underway. I’ll be constructing a separate blog to publish updates but I’ll keep you posted on here too. The title will be Visible diggers: researching learning through research in archaeology. The repetition of the word research is of course intentional, and its importance for students is what we hope to highlight through this project. We’re currently discussing the strategy for collecting data from University of Manchester archaeology students and how best to present this at the CIfA conference in Cardiff in April. More updates as they unfold!

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Archaeology

Strange Objects

This week, I joined the University’s archaeology society and was elected as its museum liaison. It’s now my task to arrange activities for myself and my peers which are museum-related and this got me thinking about how museums display archaeological material. When an artefact is found in the ground, at least when part of an academic or commercial excavation, its exact location is meticulously recorded. The surrounding material (context) is mapped and many other things like dating and post-excavation analysis may be conducted. After working with the Manchester Museum’s ethnography collections for a few months it became apparent that museums often hold large quantities of objects which have little or no information associated with them. These usually come from older acquisitions or donations from personal collections. I have come across many examples from North and South America which have no reliable date, provenance, and in some cases the nature of the object itself is a complete mystery. Are objects like this useful to us as archaeologists at all? Do we have to know anything about the object’s history or origins for it to provide us with information about the past?  This is something I’d like to explore in one of the sessions and would be interested to see other student’s reactions to an object which the museum knows nothing about, and I will let you know some thoughts on the matter.

In other news, the Whitworth Gallery’s long awaited renovation is nearly complete. The new galleries look great and have upcoming exhibitions by artists such as Cornelia Parker and Sarah Lucas. I’m particularly excited by Cai Guo-Qiang’s stunning installation which will be displayed in the new landscape gallery. He uses gunpowder to created huge and sprawling Chinese-inspired landscapes. Read more about it here. I shall be attending a preview evening on Saturday 7th of Feb to check out the newly improved gallery for myself ahead of its official opening on the 14th, although a photography embargo will be maintained until the 11th so I’ll post some photos after that date. Wouldn’t want to spoil it for the press!

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