I have worked with the prehistoric collections at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for nearly 20 years and have had the privilege to handle, document, and display some of the most iconic prehistoric objects from Wales during this time. It still astonishes me every day how lucky I am to be able to interact with these incredible objects helping to ensure their stories, and those of the people who made them can be told.
Since returning from furlough one of the highlight artefacts I’ve worked on has been the enigmatic Caergwrle bowl, which was buried in a boggy field near Caergwrle, Flintshire between 1300 and 1150BC.
It represents a sea-faring boat travelling over golden waves which are denoted by the zig-zag patterns around it’s base. The circular shields of a warrior band are hung around its rim and the vertical triangles are suggestive of oars – it even has ‘eyes’ on the prow and stern offering protection to both the vessel itself and its cargo. Made of shale from Dorset, tin from Cornwall and gold from Ireland or Wales it demonstrates the significance of journeys, connections and kinship to people living in Wales over 3000 years ago.
On the 24th of March this year the bowl undertook its own epic journey to the Halle State Museum of Prehistory in Germany to be part of a major exhibition - ‘The World of the Nebra Sky Disc – New Horizons’. I was responsible for ensuring that the bowl was safely packaged for its trip and would not suffer any ill-effects from being transported. The bowl is incredibly fragile and, as the gold foil around the rim is so thin and fragile, it was vital the packaging did not touch these areas and instead rested on the reconstructed areas of dark blue-green resin. The round bottom also needed to be carefully supported to ensure that there was no movement within the packaging.
In normal times I would have travelled to Halle myself with the bowl to install it in the exhibition showcase but the Covid-19 pandemic meant that we had to develop a new approach. As the bowl was now travelling by itself (with a specialist courier company of course!) I was filmed demonstrating how to safely unpack, handle and install the bowl on its bespoke mount so that my counterparts in Halle could feel confident doing this themselves with an object they had not encountered before.
Once the bowl had safely arrived in Halle a zoom link was set up so I could watch the unpacking, condition checking and installation remotely and offer any advice or comments during the process. We needn’t have worried – in no time at all the bowl was securely locked in its new display case ready to be viewed by visitors to the exhibition.