The Mystery of the Mold Cape

Who was this golden cape made for? Discover the mysterious treasure from the British Museum

By Google Arts & Culture

Mold Cape (-1900/-1600)British Museum

3,500 years ago the body of a Bronze Age person was laid into a stone-lined burial chamber. They were of a slight build, but whoever they were, they must have been important, as on their shoulders they wore a truly amazing artwork; a finely-crafted golden cape.

Finds associated with the burial suggest it was that of a woman, but we can't be sure. They may have been associated with powerful copper-mining societies in northern Wales, and they may have been a religious leader, a social ruler, or even a human sacrifice.

Fragments from Mold Cape and amber bead (-1900/-1600) by British MuseumBritish Museum

The cape was discovered in 1833, by workmen quarrying for stone in a burial mound near Mold, Wales. The grave had been badly damaged, all that remained of the cape were fragments of gold and bronze rivets. At first, it wasn't clear what exactly they had discovered.

Pieces from Mold Cape (-1900/-1600) by British MuseumBritish Museum

The finds were quickly dispersed, and it took the British Museum years to accumulate even a fraction of the whole. As the pieces were recovered, it became clear this was a masterpiece of goldsmithing, and a unique artefact of prehistoric Europe.

Mold Cape conservation (-1900/-1600) by British MuseumBritish Museum

In the 1960s, the British Museum undertook research to reconstruct the Mold Cape. During the conservation work, the unique oval form and the fine craftsmanship of the cape was revealed.

Detail of shoulder area of Mold cape (-1900/-1600)British Museum

The cape was made by hammering a single 700g ingot of gold into a thin sheet, barely 1mm thick. The sheet was bent to form the cape, and the decorative patterns applied with a variety of stamps and hammers.

The ribs and bosses of the cape may be designed to imitate beaded clothing. In fact, several hundred amber beads were found with the cape, but they were given to the workmen who made the discovery. Today, the British Museum holds only a single original bead.

Mold Cape experimental embossing stampsBritish Museum

Here are a selection of modern stamps and punches that were used in the restoration and conservation of the cape. Similar tools must have been used by its original makers.

Investigating decorating techniques of the Mold Cape (-1900/-1600)British Museum

Here is one way that decoration may have been applied to the cape. However it was achieved, it's proof of a highly-developed metalworking and goldsmithing culture in northern Europe.

Mold Cape being worn – back view (-1900/-1600) by British MuseumBritish Museum

Here, we can see a curator wearing a replica of the Mold Cape. Its length means that it would have been difficult for the wearer to move their arms. It probably wouldn't have been an everyday item of clothing, instead, it would have been worn only for special ceremonies.

Mold Cape being worn - front view (-1900/-1600)British Museum

The highly reflective golden cape would have been a truly amazing sight. Even today, when we live surrounded by metal, it's a stunning artwork. Some have linked this shining cape to sun worship, and to monuments such as Stonehenge, that appear to be aligned with the solstices.

Mold Cape reconstruction drawing (-1900/-1600)British Museum

However it was worn, and whoever it was worn by, the Mold Cape is a true treasure of the Bronze Age. Hopefully, further archaeological discoveries will shed light on this one-of-a-kind cape.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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