The Mold Cape

Prehistoric Britain: a Key Stage 2 guide to the Mold Cape

Mold Cape (-1900/-1600)British Museum

The Mold Cape

This beautiful gold cape was discovered nearly 200 years ago in a field near the town of Mold in Wales. For many years it was a mystery object. It was found crushed and people were not sure how the pieces fitted together, what it was or how old it was. 

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

How was it

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. 

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

What happened when it was found?

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.

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

What is it supposed to

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.

Fragment from Mold Cape (-1900/-1600)British Museum

Where is the rest of

Since the cape was first discovered some of the smaller fragments of gold have been re-discovered. Some of these pieces have been added into the cape at the Museum. Other pieces have been lost forever and some have probably been melted down and made into modern jewellery. 

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

What is it meant to
look like?

The decoration on the cape was 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 is trying to copy the shape of these jet beads. 

Mold Cape sheet fragment (-1900/-1600)British Museum

How was it worn?

Small holes along the top and bottom meant that the cape could be sewn on to an under garment.  This under garment 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. 

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

Who wore it?

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. It was probably worn on special occasions.

Mold Cape experimental embossing stampsBritish Museum

How was it made?

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 which pushed the gold out from behind. The gold for the cape may have come from Ireland which is famous for its early gold artefacts. But the style of the cape suggests that it was made in Britain. 

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

Why was it buried?

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.

Annotated drawing of Mold Cape ("1800s")British Museum

When does it date

When it was first discovered experts thought the cape was made in the AD 400s just after the Romans left Britain. Nowadays 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 which the person wearing the cape took part in.

Investigating decorating techniques of the Mold Cape, -1900/-1600, From the collection of: British Museum
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Classroom activity

Archaeologists have investigated how the Mold Cape was decorated using metal stamps to create an embossed pattern which looked like strings of beads and folds of fabric.

Embossing is a way of making a pattern by pressing stamps into the back of sheet metal. This pushes out the front surface of the metal to create a textured surface.

Experiment with embossing using craft foil. This can be embossed using a blunt pencil to draw lines into the foil or by pressing down with the rounded end to create dots.

Mold Cape being worn - front view, -1900/-1600, From the collection of: British Museum
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Classroom activity

Trying on the cape helps archaeologists to decide how it was worn and who might have worn it.

Discuss who you think might have worn the cape and why.

Write a first-person account of wearing the cape during the British Bronze Age.

Here are some questions to consider while planning the account: Who are you? What is your role in your community? Where are you when you wear the cape? What is happening around you – what can you see and hear? How do you feel when you are wearing the cape?

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

Classroom activity

This fragment from the edge of the Mold Cape has holes punched through the gold sheet.

A row of holes along the bottom edge of the cape suggest that something was sewn onto it; perhaps a cloak which hung down below the cape.

Imagine that this cloak was decorated. Look at other British Bronze Age objects to find out what patterns and motifs were popular during this period. Use these as inspiration for designing a cloak to hang below the cape.

Create a full size cloak on fabric/paper – using drawing, painting, stenciling or printing – based on the different design ideas presented by the class.

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

Classroom activity

These two fragments of gold from the Mold Cape survived in the ground for over 2500 years.

Materials are affected in different ways when they are buried. Gold is a very stable material and survives for thousands of years in the ground but not everything from the Mold burial survived.

Test what happens to different materials such as wood, fabric, metal, stone and plant material (e.g. an apple) when they are buried in soil.
Bury a range of materials and record what happens to them after a week, a month or a whole term. Decide if the soil will be wet or dry, hot or cold.

How does this help us understand what sort of evidence from the past archaeologists find?

Credits: Story

Look for Bronze Age objects on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website.

Explore a 3D scan of the Mold Cape.

Find out more about the British Museum learning offer for schools .

Mold Cape Key Stage 2 guide created at the British Museum by
Katharine Hoare (Learning and National Partnerships)
Neil Wilkins (Britain, Europe and Prehistory)

Credits: All media
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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