The Rillaton gold cup

The Rillaton gold cup

Height: 85.000 mm
Diameter: 85.000 mm
Weight: 76.600 g

On loan from the Royal Collection, Copyright H.M. Queen Elizabeth II .

Workmen engaged in construction work in 1837 plundered a burial cairn for stone on part of Bodmin Moor, at Rillaton. In one side of the mound they came upon a stone-lined vault, or cist, 2.4 m long and 1.1 m wide. It contained the decayed remains of a human skeleton accompanied by this gold cup, a bronze dagger and other objects that have not survived - a decorated pottery vessel, a 'metallic rivet', 'some pieces of ivory' and 'a few glass beads'. The pot and gold cup were set beneath a slab leaning against the west wall of the cist.

After discovery the finds were sent as Duchy Treasure Trove to William IV (reigned 1831-37) very shortly before his death. They remained in the royal household until the death of King George V in 1936, at which point the importance of the cup and associated dagger came to be appreciated, leading to their loan to the British Museum.

The main body of the cup was beaten out of a single lump of gold of high purity. The corrugated profile would have required great skill to achieve. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, it added strength to the thin sheet metal. The handle is decorated with two sets of grooves and is neatly rivetted to the body through lozenge-shaped washers.

Similar cups were made in plain sheet gold as well as in other exotic materials - silver, amber and shale - in southern England and north-western Europe. It is thought that they were inspired by pottery cups current in the later part of the Early Bronze Age in central Europe (the Aunjetitz, or Únetician culture). Until recently, only two other corrugated cups of this period were known from temperate Europe, but in November 2001 another was unearthed by Cliff Bradshaw at Ringlemere in eastern Kent and was acquired by the British Museum in May 2003.