Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Britain's Scattered Heritage": The Mold Cape

Scattered Heritage: The Mold Cape. The Bronze Age gold cape discovered in north Wales is at the centre of a row between the British Museum and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum in Copenhagen. The delicate 4,000-year-old cape is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of Bronze Age craftsmanship in the world. It is made from a single ingot of the equivalent of 23-carat gold and weighs one kilogram and is decorated in meticulous detail with ribs and bosses, giving an impression of folded cloth. It was possibly worn as a garment for religious ceremonies by someone of great authority.

The object was found in pieces by workmen (accounts vary: either during the filling of a gravel pit or while they were quarrying for stone) in a grave with the bones of a man at Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill), in Mold, north Wales, in 1833. The cape had been placed on the body of a person who was interred in a rough cist (stone-lined grave) within a burial mound. The preserved remains of the skeleton were fragmentary, and the cape was badly crushed. An estimated 200-300 amber beads, in rows, were on the cape originally, but only a single bead survives at the British Museum.

The British Museum came into possession of some of the pieces in 1836, but the remaining fragments were dispersed. In 1958 however a number of pieces comprising the majority of the cape were offered for sale on the continental antiquities market but British museums were unable to obtain funding to make a bid in time to secure it for the national collections.

As displayed in Copenhagen, the cape's breadth is 458 mm, clearly made to fit someone of a very slight build. Although the gender of the person buried in this grave remains unclear, the associated finds are likely to have been those accompanying the burial of a woman. As the cape extends so far down the upper body, it would have severely restricted arm movement by pinning them to the wearer's side, so that only the lower arms were usable. It has therefore been concluded that the cape would not have been suitable for everyday wear and most probably was used for ceremonial purposes, and may have signified the wearer as a person of spiritual or temporal power.

The British Museum and National Museum of Wales are currently engaged in negotiations with Copenhagen about the repatritation of this object, but the Danish popular press is unexpectedly opposed to any such moves. The object is felt to be comparable to the Nordic style of metalwork and new Age groups (Odinists in particular) feel this to be a sacred object which should remain in Scandinavia to be held in trust for all Nordic peoples. Needless to say, New Age groups in Britain have equal hopes that the object will return to England.

A replica of the artefact is displayed at the heritage centre and museum in Mold.

Photo: the Mold cape

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