The Mold gold cape
Height: 23.5 cm
Width: 46.5 cm
Depth: 28 cm
Weight: 560 g
Majority purchased; small fragments by gift from Sir W.C. Trevelyan, Bt., J. Evans, Miss Lewis, F. Potts and C.W. Rogers
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
Workmen quarrying for stone in an ancient burial mound in 1833 found this stunning gold object which remains unparalleled to this day. The mound lay in a field named Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill). At the centre was a stone-lined grave with the crushed gold cape around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton. Strips of bronze and quantities of amber beads were also recovered, but only one of the beads ever 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 labouriously 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 intermittently 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.
On display: Room 51: Europe 10,000-800 BC