The ever expanding St Fagans National Museum of History opened new galleries and a new reconstructed building last year, but I’ve only this weekend got a chance to go down there to check out all the Anglesey connections.
Top of the list to see was Llys Llywelyn. This is a recreation of the 13th century Royal Court of the Princes of Gwynedd (including Llywelyn the Great). It is based on the actual court that was excavated at Llys Rhosyr, near Newborough. A number of buildings were unearthed there, and more may lay under the surrounding turf, but the two most completely investigated ones were recreated in St Fagans. The great hall, with its massive timber frame forming a grand space, was built to impress.
Entering through the great doors, visitors would face the dais at the far end, where the prince would take his seat. The stunning painting of the stonework around the windows and the timber columns and arches, in a Romanesque style common at the time, would be complemented by tapestries on the walls. The smaller adjoining building has been reconstructed as a food storage area and living quarters.
Another new feature of the outdoor museum is a refurbished main entrance building with exhibition space called “Wales is…”. This explores Wales from a variety of perspectives, looking at history and social development, with a view towards the future. This gallery has a number of links to Anglesey, particularly its archaeology.
One of the most astounding finds on Anglesey is the Llyn Cerrig Bach treasure hoard. Dating from the Iron Age, these 2000 year old artefacts were discovered in a lake near RAF Valley during World War II. These items include swords, slave chains and horse bridle bits, as well as some magnificent bronze decorative plaques and shield bosses. They are thought to have been thrown into the lake by the Celtic druids as offerings to the gods. These items have occasionally been lent to the Oriel Môn in Llangefni for display near to their home, and replicas are on permanent display there, but St Fagans now has a large display of most of the items, artfully jumbled together in a single case.
Another beautiful set of objects, which I had been reading about just a couple of days beforehand, was a set of five silver arm bands found in a quarry overlooking Red Wharf Bay. Discovered in the late 19th century, they are similar in style to objects found in the Cuerdale Hoard in Lancashire, which are thought to have been possessions of the Vikings who were expelled from Dublin in 903 AD. That Viking band, led by a man called Ingimund, had settled in Anglesey briefly after their expulsion, so these may have belonged to him or one of his followers.
Nearby in Llanbedrgoch recent excavations have revealed a more spectacular set of artefacts, which feature heavily in the St Fagans displays. This site, also of Viking age, is a village that has clear trading links, with coins from various places and a set of Viking lead weights, used for weighing silver, being found amongst numerous other items that give us an insight into the lives of people at the time.
Also found at the site were the burials of several people. Some of the skeletons show evidence of having died violently, and it was first assumed that they may have been victims of Viking raiders. However, isotope analysis of the skeletons show that some of them had previously lived in north-west Scotland or Scandinavia, so may have been Vikings themselves.
One burial had the skeleton of a young boy, underneath that of a man, who had unhealed cutmarks on his arm and skull, and may have had his hands tied behind his back. The skull features of the two are similar, and reconstructions of their facial features show remarkable resemblance. Were they father and son?
Another new building at St Fagans is Gweithdy, a space devoted to the skills of craftsmen through the ages, showing how things have been made from wood, clay, stone, metal, plants and textiles. In the section on stone carving was an object that I’ve seen many times, but never really seen at all. Next to the burial mound at Bryn Celli Ddu stands a stone with a complex series of carvings, with spirals and zig-zags. I always admire it when there, even though I know it is a replica of the original, which was sent to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff after the excavation in the 1920s. So finding the original here was like running across an old friend in a distant city.