Background

Mold Community Archaeology project
Image courtesy of Philip Culver

In 1833 a group of workmen, digging for stone and gravel to mend a nearby road, discovered the Mold Cape. As well as the cape, a necklace comprising around 300 amber beads, a bronze knife, a ceramic vessel and the remains of a human skeleton were found.

When the Cape was first discovered the land agent sold fragments of the cape to local antiquarians and collectors. A large campaign to reunite parts of the cape was stimulated by the British Museum who wanted to acquire and care for the object, at a time when there was no National Museum in Wales. Today the Cape is near complete but only 1 bead is known to survive. The skeleton and vessel found with the cape were also not retrieved.

Our understanding of the Mold Cape has been the subject of research since its discovery. The burial and the Cape have been memorialised by a stone plaque placed in the front wall of one of the houses on Chester Road and here it is said to be the burial of Benlli Gawr, a legendary 5th century King of Powys. This interpretation had changed certainly by the early 20th century when archaeologists realised the object was considerably older. The Cape was instead recognised as being part of a wider European Bronze Age tradition of gold high status objects. In the 1950s T.G.E. Powell dated the Cape to the Middle Bronze Age, around 3,000-3,500 years old (Powell 1953). This interpretation has recently been revised by Stuart Needham and the Cape is now considered to be Early Bronze Age, approximately 3,600 to 3,900 years old (Needham 2012)

As well as the date of the object, the interpretation of the object also changed in the early 20th century. The British Museum initially interpreted the object as having been a horse peytrel as it was thought that the size would fit a Welsh pony (British Museum 1904). This idea was not maintained and by 1953 T.G.E. Powell wrote a detailed article on the object where he proposed that this golden object had been buried as a Cape with an adolescent male. More recently interpretations have, once again, been revised and now it is thought that the cape could have been buried with a female (British Museum 2005; Needham 2012). This latest idea is based upon the associated grave goods - the amber beads and the bronze blade - rather than the size of the Cape.

Who was the person buried with the Cape? Why was this person and the cape buried on a hill next to the River Alun nearly 4,000 years ago? We now think that the area of modern Flintshire was a centre for ceremonial and burial activity in the late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. The Mold Cape is an indicator of the importance of the region and the focus placed on the River Alun as part of this ritual landscape. We are unlikely to ever be able to fully answer these questions but they are better understood once placed this wider ceremonial context.

There are a number of other significant Late Bronze Age artefacts from the River Alun in Amgueddfa Cymru collections. The Caergwle Bowl and the Burton and Llanarmon-yn-Ial hoards were found near to the River Alun. Other important Bronze Age objects from this area are the Llong shale and jet necklace, also found at a burial monument, and the Rossett hoard. The relationship between the River Alun and the deposition of these objects has led archaeologists to consider the continuing symbolic importance of the River Alun and its surrounding landscape at this time.

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