The Mold gold cape
Mold, Flintshire, North Wales, Bronze Age, about 1900-1600 BC
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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?
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.
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.