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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tracing the Change at Cardiff Bay: a Britain from Above Community Project, Butetown

Cardiff Bay has seen a lot of change since Aerofilms Ltd first visited 90 years ago. Once the home of bustling docks, the bay has been redeveloped into an almost unrecognisable landscape of modern cultural importance: the Senedd (National Assembly for Wales) is now housed on the waterfront, as is the Millennium Centre, an important hub for the arts. When contemplating Cardiff Bay images from the collection hosted by Britain from Above, the extent and significance of this change begin to emerge.

General view of Cardiff showing docks

As part of its Activity Programme, Britain from Above is using Aerofilms images of Cardiff Bay and the surrounding region as a starting point for an intergenerational community project in the Butetown area of Cardiff. The project involves the residents of Red Sea House (a Taff initiative to house retired Somali seamen) and the Somali Youth Association group (SoYA).

The Butetown project ultimately aims to put together a short film capturing how everyday life in the area is experienced by different generations. The film will explore both the elders’ reminiscences of living and working in Butetown, and the children’s more recent experiences of change taking place in their neighbourhoods.

View of Cardiff showing docks and Butetown

Rather than simply interviewing the participants, the project is encouraging the children to take an active part in the filmmaking process. Film company Big Mouse Productions are lending their expertise, leading sessions that focus on the basics of professional film recording. They also teach the children how to be accomplished interviewers and ask questions that will elicit interesting answers.

The children of SoYA have had excellent fun practicing their new skills on each other ~some finding out what their friends want to be when they grow up (doctors, for the most part), others talking about places they’d lived in (as far and wide as the USA and Netherlands). One child remarked on how many more pavements there are in Wales compared to the USA! These sessions help the children develop a range of skills they can repeatedly draw on, for any projects they may like to work on in the future.
General view of Cardiff docks

During the industrial heyday of the city, Cardiff Bay was the largest port in Wales, with a constant stream of ships, sailors and dock workers pouring through. The industrial heritage of Wales is now being recognised as a key part of Welsh history, and work is being done by heritage organisations to record details of the lives of people involved in the day to day running of the bay.

View of Bute East dock, Cardiff and surrounding area

However, not as much work has been carried out exploring the experiences of visiting seamen and the lives they later made for themselves in Cardiff ~and it is precisely this gap that the Britain from Above Butetown project addresses. The Aerofilms collection is a unique and invaluable resource that can be used to help stir memories and recollections. By encouraging the younger generations to find out about the history of the place they live in and about the experiences of the older members of their community, and by asking them to share their own experiences of change, the project hopes to trace a microhistory of life in Cardiff Bay, as seen through the eyes of Butetown residents.

View of Cardiff Docks

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Royal Commission Delivers High-quality Services, 2012-13

Every year, Royal Commission staff set out to deliver high-quality services for our wide range of users and customers in the most economic and effective way possible. We set key performance indicators, alongside our other operational objectives for the year, to give a measure of our performance. During 2012/13, thanks to the continued hard work and commitment of all our staff, and to additional resources brought in through external funding and partnership, we achieved or exceeded all fifteen of the targets, which are set out in the table below. We are particularly pleased that we continue to attract more and more users of our resources, whether in the form of visits to our online resources; researchers requesting information from our public enquiries service; people taking advantage of the training we can provide; or the numbers attending our events. There is a continuing growth in demand from the public for the excellent resources we provide and we continue to give a high level of satisfaction. For 2013/14 we have raised many of our targets despite the huge challenge of reducing budgets.

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Thursday, 8 August 2013

Welsh drought brings Roman and Iron Age aerial discoveries across the country

Figure 1. A tip-off from a Roman expert studying coin finds in central Wales led to this stunning discovery of a previously unrecorded Roman fort complex, showing as fading cropmarks in fields of wheat near Brecon, Powys (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 1st August 2013).
The long spell of hot summer weather across Wales has left aerial archaeologists reflecting on some of their most significant discoveries since 2006. A previously unrecorded Roman fort, a Roman marching camp and scores of Iron Age farmsteads and forts have been discovered by the Royal Commission as parched grassland and ripening fields of wheat showed the locations of long-lost monuments. Aerial surveys over Cardiff and Pembroke Castles revealed parchmarks of lost buildings inside these well-visited attractions, while discoveries were made from Wrexham to Pwllheli, and from Haverfordwest to Chepstow.

Aerial archaeologist Dr Toby Driver from the Royal Commission carefully targeted reconnaissance flights in a light aircraft to where the drought conditions were most severe across the length and breadth of Wales. When cropmarks show in drought conditions, the Royal Commission’s aerial survey programme only has a few weeks to record the sites before rain or harvest removes them.

By far the most significant discoveries for Wales have been from the Roman period with a major Roman fort complex discovered near Brecon, and a Roman marching camp discovered near Caerwent Roman town. The Roman fort near Brecon is a rare discovery for Wales and was made following a tip-off from Roman scholar Dr Jeffrey L. Davies, who has worked with Toby on the Abermagwr Roman villa excavations. Toby explained:

‘Jeffrey Davies noticed an anomaly in Roman coin finds near Brecon, reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). He had a hunch that the coins, of the Emperor Claudius, could indicate a lost early Roman fort, and passed a grid reference to me the day before a flight into central Wales. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the pilot and I approached the location and saw fading cropmarks of a major Roman fort complex, lost beneath fields and a road for nearly 2,000 years.’

Other discoveries were made near Caerwent Roman town in south Wales, famously the market town of the Celtic Silures. Toby explained: ‘Close to Caerwent we discovered only the second Roman marching camp in Monmouthshire. These were overnight camps built by Roman soldiers on campaign in hostile territory. Because the campaigns against the tenacious Silures were documented by Roman historians, we expect more camps in south-east Wales than we currently know about. This new camp between Caerwent and Chepstow seems to show a small expeditionary force on manoeuvres, perhaps in the years around AD 50. West of Caerwent we found a remarkable ‘native’ Iron Age settlement. Given the decades of aerial survey in the region around Caerwent, these surprise discoveries show the continuing need for aerial archaeology in Wales.’

Figure 2. A rare discovery: only the second Roman marching camp in Monmouthshire, found between Caerwent and Chepstow, provides new evidence for the famous Roman campaigns against the Silures of south-east Wales. The characteristic ‘playing card’ shape of the camp shows as a cropmark in a ripening field of wheat, and an adjacent field of parched grass (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 22nd July 2013).
Other discoveries made in the drought include one of the largest and most complex Iron Age defended farms in Pembrokeshire, on Conkland Hill, Wiston, as well as scores of newly recorded Iron Age farms and forts across south Pembrokeshire and in the Vale of Glamorgan, with two discovered close to the well-known Roman villa at Caermead, Llantwit Major. The archival work for the Royal Commission now begins, to catalogue and map the many discoveries and make the information more widely available to the public on its online database

Learn more about aerial archaeology in Wales from the recent Royal Commission publication ‘Cymru Hanesyddol o'r Awyr / Historic Wales From the Air’ (RCAHMW 2012, £19.95) Dr Toby Driver, RCAHMW

How ‘cropmarks’  show lost archaeological sites

‘Cropmarks’ are revealed when grass and arable crops are put under drought stress, and they respond to subtle differences in moisture in the subsoil. Where crops are growing over the buried ditches of lost hillforts or prehistoric farms dark green lines form in fields; conversely buried stonework of lost buildings or old roads form yellow lines in grass and crops. These cropmarks can be seen most clearly from the air, but have to be photographed in a short time window before rain or harvest makes them disappear.

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Thursday, 1 August 2013

National Eisteddfod 2013

Location of the 2013 Eisteddfod.

Next week come and visit us at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh to find out more about our nation’s rich heritage of buildings and archaeology. Both Coflein, our online database, and our in-house experts will be available to answer your queries throughout the week. Our exhibition includes panels on the historic town of Denbigh, tree-ring dating, the artwork of Falcon Hildred, and the Metal Links project work at Amlwch. We will be located in “Heritage Row”, stand number 509-10, next to Cadw and Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, so please call in and see us!

Important diary dates:
Wednesday, 7 August at 11am, Royal Commission Chairman, Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, will be talking in Pabell y Cymdeithasau 1 on “Darganfod Hanes Sir Ddinbych - darganfyddiadau diweddar gan Gomisiwn Henebion Cymru" (Discovering the history of Denbighshire: recent discoveries by the Royal Commission) and at the Denbighshire marquee (immediately facing the main entrance) on Thursday 8 August at 3:30pm.

On Friday, 9 August, military historian, Medwyn Parry, will be giving a talk on Olion Milwrol o’r Ugeinfed Ganrif yng Nghymru (Twentieth Century Military Remains in Wales) in Pabell y Cymdeithasu 2 at 10.30am.

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