The Mold gold cape is one of the British Museum’s most prized possessions. Made in the Bronze Age around 3,700 years ago, it was found in 1833 in Mold, North Wales, by workmen who uncovered a stone-lined grave in the middle of a field named Bryn yr Ellyllon (Fairies’ or Goblins’ Hill). The gold cape had been placed on the body of a person but the preserved remains of the skeleton were fragmentary, and the cape was badly crushed.
The cape is made from a single sheet of beaten gold, embellished with raised decoration consisting of ridges separating rows of dots, rectangles and lozenges. It was originally covered with hundreds of amber beads and it is thought that the decoration was intended to represent multiple strings of beads and 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 cape weighs 560 grams and once slotted over its wearer’s shoulders. From its dimensions it is thought that the wearer was probably a woman. The cape was higher at the back and lower in the front and would have been unsuitable for everyday wear as it would have severely restricted upper arm movement. Instead it would have served ceremonial roles, and may have denoted religious authority.
Scholars speculate that the makers and owners of the cape may have been associated with the Bronze Age copper mine at Llandudno, just 60 km away, which was the largest mine in north-west Europe at that time.
Text Alun Harvey