I’m fresh back from my Easter break, and have the story of one of the most impressive treasures ever found in Britain to share with you: the Mold Cape.
No, it’s not moldy (although after so many centuries buried underground, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were). This stunning gold cape was discovered nearly 200 years ago in a field near the town of Mold in Wales:
As Kurt Lee Price reports on Quora, The cape was discovered on 11 October 1833 in a mound known locally as Bryn yr Ellyllon (Hill of the Goblins). Workmen were taking the mound apart to get at the stone inside to use for road building. Inside the mound, they found crushed gold wrapped around a human skeleton with amber beads, strips of bronze, and another gold object.
Everything found in the mound was recorded by Charles Butler Gough, who was the vicar of Mold. Some of the gold pieces and amber beads were shared out between the workers who found them and Mr. Langford who rented the field. He sold his three large pieces to the British Museum in 1836. However, only one of the beads ever reached the Museum.
A Strange Corselet
All the bits of gold were badly damaged which made it difficult to piece them together. At first, experts thought it was a ‘corselet’ worn around the chest by a warrior – or even a pony! Then in the 1960s, there was a major restoration project which showed it was a cape. Further work in 2002 filled in the missing parts and created a complete shoulder cape.
Since the cape was first discovered, some of the smaller fragments of gold have been re-discovered. Some of these pieces have been added to the cape at the Museum. Other pieces have been lost forever and some have probably been melted down and made into modern jewelry.
The decoration on the cape was probably meant to look like strings of beads worn over the shoulders and caught between folds of cloth. In the 1950s archaeologists excavated another burial mound near Mold which contained a necklace made from nearly 1000 jet beads. Experts think that the embossed gold ‘beads’ on the Mold cape are trying to copy the shape of these jet beads.
The cape is made from 700g of gold. This gold was beaten flat and then bent round to make the cape shape. It was decorated using a punching tool that pushed the gold out from behind. The gold for the cape may have come from Ireland which is famous for its early gold artifacts. But the style of the cape suggests that it was made in Britain.
Wear the Cape
Small holes along the top and bottom meant that the cape could be sewn onto an undergarment. This undergarment would hang down over the body of the person wearing the cape. The cape itself was probably lined with leather to make it more comfortable to wear. Another piece of gold sheet, which is not part of the Mold cape at the British Museum, also has holes along the edges and experts wonder if there were once two gold Mold Capes.
The cape would fit a slender man or woman. Few bones from the mound have survived so experts are not sure if a man or a woman was buried with the cape. The cape makes it difficult to move your upper arms and is quite heavy. It is not suitable for wearing every day, so it was probably worn on special occasions.
The cape, and the other things found with it, was probably put in a stone-lined grave. This grave was then covered with a cairn (pile) of stones and soil to make a burial mound. Other graves with beads, pendants, and other ornaments from the same time seem to belong to women so the cape may have been buried with a young woman who wore it during life.
When it was first discovered, experts thought the cape was made in the AD 400s just after the Romans left Britain. Nowadays, however, it is thought to date from 1900–1600 BC, a period of British history known as the Bronze Age. During the Bronze Age, the area around Mold may have been used for religious ceremonies in which the person wearing the cape took part.
If you’re ever in the British Museum, be sure to check it out. Until then, maybe you can use one of these beauties as part of your stories. Happy writing!
We have visited so many exhibits at so many museums. Wonderful items to view but after a bit they seem to blend together or one gets tired of looking at them as the time passes. Yet we never can resist seeing another one wherever we travel. Ah, travel–how we long for that! But, yes, the cape most likely must be ceremonial–and for a person of wealth/power.
I’m much like you. In 6 years in Edinburgh, I kept visiting the National Museum, taking in its beauty in small bits every time.
Another fascinating find by you!
Thank you so much, Noelle! The way you phrased it, it sounds like I discovered the Mold cape. If only this were the case 😀
I like to think it was Welsh Gold, which is now popular here for wedding rings.
A lovely find indeed.
Best wishes, Pete.
I’d like to think so too, Pete! I love the thought 🙂