The Mold gold cape

Mold, Flintshire, North Wales, Bronze Age, about 1900-1600 BC

The Mold gold cape

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.


Watch more BSL video descriptions

Workmen quarrying for stone in an ancient burial mound in 1833 found this unique ceremonial gold cape, which remains unparalleled to this day. The mound lay in a field named Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill).


At the centre of the mound was a stone-lined grave with the crushed gold cape around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton. Strips of bronze and numbers of amber beads were recovered, but only one of the beads reached the British Museum.

The cape would have been unsuitable for everyday wear because it would have severely restricted upper arm movement. Instead it would have served ceremonial roles, and may have denoted religious authority.

The cape is one of the finest examples of prehistoric sheet-gold working and is quite unique in form and design. It was laboriously beaten out of a single ingot of gold, then embellished with intense decoration of ribs and bosses to mimic multiple strings of beads amid folds of cloth.

Perforations along the upper and lower edges indicate that it was once attached to a lining, perhaps of leather, which has decayed. The bronze strips may have served to strengthen the adornment further.

The fragile cape broke up during recovery and the pieces were dispersed among various people. Although the British Museum acquired the greater proportion in 1836, small fragments have come to light over the years and have been reunited.

Later detailed study and restoration revealed the full form of the cape, which at one time had been interpreted as a peytrel (chest ornament) for a horse. It also became apparent that a second, smaller object in matching embossed style was present in the grave.


How do we know what it looked like?

Video

Restoring the Mold Gold Cape

The cape was restored at the British Museum during the 1960s. Before that no-one really knew its exact original shape.

Read the full article


Bronze Age

Video

The cape dates back to the European Bronze Age, so-called because of the spectacular examples of bronze and gold objects placed in graves, rivers and bogs throughout the continent.

Bronze Age world culture

<

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

Height: 23.5 cm
Width: 46.5 cm
Depth: 28 cm
Weight: 560 g

 

P&EE 1836 9-2 1;P&EE 1856 10-14 10;P&EE 1857 12-16 1;P&EE 1877 5-7 1;P&EE 1881 5-14 1;P&EE 1883 12-7 1;P&EE 1927 4-6 1;P&EE 1972 6-1 1-4

Room 51: Europe 10,000-800 BC

     

    Majority purchased; small fragments by gift from Sir W.C. Trevelyan, Bt., J. Evans, Miss Lewis, F. Potts and C.W. Rogers

    References

    T.G.E. Powell, 'The gold ornament from Mold, Flintshire, North Wales', Proceedings of the Prehistoric sopciety, 19 (1953), pp. 161-79

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    R. Bradley, The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland (Cambridge, 2007)

    D. Clarke et al. (eds.), Symbols of Power at the Time of Stonehenge. (Edinburgh, 1985)

    G. Eogan, The Accomplished Art: Gold and Gold-Working in Britain and Ireland During the Bronze Age (Oxford, 1994)

    S. Needham, The development of Embossed Goldwork in Bronze Age Europe’, Antiquaries Journal, 80 (2000), 27–65.

    G. Morteani, and P. Northover, Prehistoric Gold in Europe: Mines, Metallurgy, and Manufacture. (New York, 1995)