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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Gold Mold Cape

Gold Mold Cape

Gold Mold Cape

This nearly 4,000 years old Gold Cape formed part of a ceremonial dress. It is a solid sheet-gold object dating from about 1900 BC in the European Bronze Age. The cape is a spectacular example of prehistoric gold craftsmanship. The cape is oval and covered the shoulders, upper arms, and upper chest of the person wearing it. The Cape was beaten out of a single ingot of gold, a task which would have taken considerable time and skill, and was then decorated with concentric rings of ribs and bosses.

It was discovered at Mold in Flintshire, Wales, in 1833. The value of the metal and the quality craftsmanship suggests that a wealthy culture produced the cape. Most likely, a tribe associated with the mine on the Great Orme, North Wales, the largest copper mine in north-west Europe at that time. The gold cape had been placed on the body of a deceased person who was interred in a stone-lined grave within a burial mound.

The cape extends far down the arms of the upper body. Thus it would have severely restricted upper arm movement by pinning them to the wearer’s side so that only the lower limbs were usable. For this reason, the cape would not have been suitable for everyday wear. The cape was used for ceremonial purposes and would have signified the wearer as a person of spiritual or tribal power. Its size was designed to fit someone of a slight build. Although the gender of the person buried in this grave, remains unclear, the associated finds, by comparison, with similar contemporary tombs discovered, all point to the burial remains of a woman.

The preserved remains of the skeleton were fragmentary, and the cape was severely crushed. Hundreds of amber beads, in rows, were on the mantle initially, but only a single bead survives at the museum. Also associated with the cape were remains of coarse cloth and fragments of bronze which were used as the backing for the gold. There also were two gold ‘straps’ among the artifacts found. An urn with large quantities of burnt bone and ash was also in the grave.

The gold cape was found in 1833 by ordinary workmen at work quarrying for stone in a burial mound. At the center of the mound, there was a stone-lined grave. The crushed gold cape was around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton. It was broken when found, and the fragments were shared out among the workmen, with the most significant piece going to Mr. Langford, tenant of the field in which the mound stood. The find came to the notice of the British Museum. In 1836 Langford sold his piece to the Museum. Subsequently, most of the parts were recovered. There were tales of the wives of some of the workmen sported new jewelry after the find. The Cape was restored and now forms one of the treasures of the British Museum.

Great Orme Copper Mines

Large-scale human activity on the Great Orme began around 4,000 years ago during the Bronze Age with the opening of several copper mines. The copper ore was initially mined using stones and bone tools.

Metal tools first appeared in Wales about 2500 BC, initially copper followed by bronze. Much of the copper for the production of bronze came from the copper mine on the Great Orme, where prehistoric mining on a vast scale dates mainly from the middle Bronze Age. Axeheads were developed towards the end of the Early Bronze Age and are innovative in both metallurgy and design. They were widely exported, with examples being found along the continental coast from Brittany to north Germany

The Great Orme Mines site was opened to the public. The visitor center contains a selection of mining tools and bronze axes along with displays about life and death in the Bronze Age, mining and ancient metallurgy. Also accessible is the 3,500-year-old Great Cavern.

Gold Mold Cape

  • Title:                Gold Mold Cape
  • Discovered:     Mold, Wales in 1833
  • Materials:        Gold
  • Culture:          European Bronze Age.
  • Dimensions:    Breadth: 458 mm; weight 560 g
  • Museum:        The British Museum

A Tour of the Collections of the British Museum

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

Middle East Collection

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

Britain, Europe and Prehistory Collection

Asian Collection

Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The Prints and Drawings Collection

Information on The British Museum

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“No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.”
– William of Ockham

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM 

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