I've been to plenty of gallery openings over the years, but the closure of Origins was something quite unique. Some in attendance jokingly called it a wake, other meant it quite seriously. Platitudes were afforded to what has stood out as one of the most effective and innovative displays of archaeology certainly in Wales, if not further afield as well. Total visitor figures of 708,000 were cited, a remarkable number. Given such clear popularity for the Origins gallery, the question should surely be asked once more, why oh why is archaeology being packed up and shuffled away into the back cupboard of St Fagans' holdings.
Roughly a hundred individuals came to send the archaeology displays on their way, and a frequently somber mood, equally gave way to merriment, as old faces were seen for the first time in many years. The 'wake' was split into three sections, an initial talk, followed by an opportunity to walk through the exhibition once more, before closing with a session considering the planned future exhibitions for St Fagans. This final element was originally pitched as a Q&A, an opportunity for concerned voices to raise their views regarding the seemingly shoddy treatment of archaeology. The Q&A however did not happen.
Perhaps it was for the best that the Q&A was hastily abandoned. That is was, perhaps reflected the mood of the crowd. Few voices present who I engaged with could present a positive view on the move from city centre to St Fagans. Indeed, most voices were those of fear, that archaeology would face a future in the shadows, overwhelmed by St Fagans' remit for social history. A quick view of the proposed new galleries for St Fagans did little to dispel any such concerns. Thematic rather than period driven exhibitions are proposed, in which archaeology will certainly play a part, but it is clear that the archaeology collections will play a supportive role, rather than be a distinctive element within the new museum. Certainly, there will be much much less on display than there ever was in Origins, and that is a great shame given the quality of the collections held in Wales.
So, Origins is gone, or in the process of going as exhibitions are stripped down, and objects boxed up. Below are a selection of images from the archaeology displays as they once were, a reminder of when archaeology had a central role to play. Take them in, because, sadly, it would seem that we will not have the opportunity to enjoy the display of Welsh archaeology in such quantity or quality, for a very, very long time.