Mold Gold Cape is the finest piece of prehistoric gold-working in Europe
The Mold Cape is a 3,700-year-old solid gold artefact found in the 19 th century within a Bronze Age burial mound at Mold, in Flintshire, Wales. It was finely crafted out of a single sheet of gold, then embellished with exceptional decoration designed to mimic multiple strings of beads amid folds of cloth. The cape is regarded as one of the finest examples of prehistoric sheet-gold working in Europe and perhaps the world. Its unique form and design demonstrates highly advanced craftsmanship in Bronze Age Europe.
The Bronze Age burial mound was found in a field named Bryn yr Ellyllon (‘Fairies’ Hill’) by workmen in 1833. It had been placed on the body of a person who was interred inside a cist (stone-lined grave) within a burial mound. Inside the mound, archaeologists also found the remains of woven textile, 16 fragments of sheet bronze, a bronze knife, fragments of a second gold cape, two gold ‘straps’, an urn with large quantities of burnt bone and ash, and the remains of hundreds of amber beads, which would have originally been on the cape.
Archaeologists and scholars were stunned. At the time and place this gold cape was made, people in Britain lived in temporary settlements and fluid communities, and they moved with their livestock and possessions through the landscape. They did not build cities or palaces, yet they were capable of creating incredibly sophisticated objects like the Mold Gold Cape.
Crafting the cape
The golden cape is oval in shape and was designed to cover the shoulders, upper arms, and upper chest of a person of slight built. It was beaten out of a single ingot of gold, a task which would have taken considerable time and skill. It was then decorated with concentric rings of ribs and bosses.
Sheets of bronze found within the cist are believed to have been the backing for the gold, as in places the gold was riveted with bronze rivets. Perforations along the upper and lower edges suggest it may once have had a lining attached, perhaps leather, which has since decayed.
Detail of the Mold Cape in the British Museum, showing tool marks. Photo source: Wikipedia
Who wore the cape?
The skeleton was lost soon after it was found, so the gender cannot be confirmed, but based on the size of the cape, it is believed it was made to fit a petite woman or a child. Until the cape had been reconstructed from the pieces in which it was found, it was always assumed the cape was worn by a male.
“When a spectacular object is found buried with an individual, the usual assumption made is that the person must have been a male adult – perhaps a warrior, a chief or religious leader. This is what people first thought when they found the fragments of the Mold Gold Cape…But it’s a good reminder that archaeologists always interpret the past with the prejudices of the present,” said Ben Roberts, Curator at the British Museum.
The individual who once wore the cape would have possessed great power and wealth, and it is believed this wealth may have been generated by the nearby Great Orme – the largest copper mine in north-west Europe. This would have been a major trading centre for prehistoric communities.
The cape is so unique – there is really nothing to compare it to in the whole of Europe – that scholars have been hard pressed to explain why it was made and what significance it had. However, when worn, it would have severely restricted upper arm movement, which suggests that the cape was only used for special occasions. This led to the simple conclusion that the cape was ceremonial, perhaps with religious connections, but the reality is that we will never know who wore this cape and why.
Featured image: Mold Cape. Photo source: Wikipedia
The Mold Cape – British Museum
Mold Gold Cape – BBC History of the World
The Mold Gold Cape – Museum Wales
The Mold Gold cape – British Museum