With the closure of the Origins gallery, the city centre museum will bid farewell to the displayed archaeological materials. This is particularly significant because since the very earliest days of the national museum project in Wales, archaeology has been a significant contributor to the museum displays and collections. With Mortimer Wheeler at the helm, first as a Keeper of Archaeology, but later as Director of the entire institution, the archaeological narrative played a defining role in considerations of what Wales was built on, and where a sense of Welsh identity came from. No more.
In the coming years, the redevelopment of St Fagans will come to fruition, and in one form or another, archaeology themed displays will find a new place of residence. It waits to be seen what level of prominence this narrative will have in a site that continues to struggle in efforts to shake off long standing associations with folk narratives. Yet this is the climate into which archaeology will, in the future, be seen and explored. Only time will tell if this is going to work out well for archaeology in Wales, and while there are many who have voiced concerns about this shift, we can now only get behind the project, and work hard to ensure that archaeology becomes a centre piece of the new St Fagans, rather a neglected side show, hidden in the background.
For now though, we need think less of the future for a moment, and take advantage of the amazing resource that we have in Wales while we still can. At time of writing there are only 25 days left in which the Origins gallery can be explored. While St Fagans will certainly display some of these collections, it is currently impossible to say when these items will be accessible for public consumption again. The likes of the Capel Garmon firedog, the Roman Leopard Cup, stones from Bryn Celli Ddu, and the ogham marked standing stones, are only a small selection of the world class archaeological collections on display in Cardiff. Wales is culturally richer for their display. Equally, we are worse off for their now inevitable retreat.
At Caerleon, University of South Wales, we have made consistent use of the Origins gallery, in terms of aiding student understanding of the early Wales narrative, but also in the exploration of a wealth of display and interpretation issues. It has been a tremendous and valuable resource on so many levels, and from a very personal perspective, I will sincerely lament the loss this archaeology gallery. So, while you still can, I implore you to visit this gem of a collection, ponder both the archaeological and museological issues, but most of all, enjoy it, as there are few finer displays of archaeology to be had on this island.