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Sue Brooke recounts her recent visit to see the Mold Cape on its travels through Wales.
The Mold Gold Cape was featured as one of the top ten treasures in the 100 objects in A History of the World in partnership with the BBC. The project was awarded The Art Fund Prize in 2011. So from July to September the Mold Gold Cape is ‘on the road’, so to speak. Normally an exhibit in the British Museum the Cape has been part of a Spotlight Tour, funded by the Art Fund. This means it is on display at the National Museum in Cardiff from 2nd. July until 4th. August 2013, before moving to Wrexham County Borough Museum, where it will be displayed from 7th. August.
I am so lucky in that I live near to both the National Museum of Wales in Cathays Park, located in the civic centre of Cardiff, and the National History Museum at St. Fagans, on the outskirts of Cardiff. So for Mr B and me it was an easy trip into town.
Current theory is that this cape dates from around the early Bronze Age, that is around 1900-1600 BC. It is believed to be of Welsh gold, but as yet there is no evidence to say where, exactly, the gold was originally mined. I myself wear a Welsh gold wedding ring from the now closed Clogau mine in Snowdonia. Due to the rarity of gold in Wales only a ‘small touch’ of Welsh gold is now included in these precious but more modern jewellery items.
Information from the Clogau webpages states that Welsh gold has been used since 1911, at the investiture of Prince Edward as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The regalia was made from ‘pure Welsh gold, identified by the very distinctive Welsh dragon stamp’. The British Royal Family have also used Welsh gold for their wedding rings – from the wedding of the Queen Mother right through to the most recent marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. So, clearly this gold is special.
No gold mining takes places in Wales now which, it is suggested, means that Welsh gold supplies will eventually run out. This makes Welsh gold extremely rare. The Mold Cape used around 700g (1.5 pounds) of it!
For some time now the museum has been running the Origins: In Search of Early Wales exhibition, which has been regularly featured in our events diary. I’ve been to this many times – each time for different reasons. It’s beautifully presented with many and various items that I’d only previously seen illustrated as drawings. For example the finds from the Dinas Powys archaeological dig, undertaken by Leslie Alcock in 1954 to 1958. These finds are all particularly relevant to me and my own personal interest, locally. It’s very atmospheric in the gallery, with dimmed lighting and that lovely sense of quiet that you used to get in a library. The cape is located within this exhibition and links it in really well with the Welsh items displayed through the very early history of Wales, right up to the more recent historical periods.
I was a little bit like a kid on arrival. Very excitedly looking around in a ‘where is it, where is it??’ kind of way and I most definitely was not disappointed. The cape and the remnants of a possible second, earlier cape were prominently displayed in a low level glass case, beautifully lit. It really did impress me. The detail on this stunningly beautiful piece is amazing. It’s possible to walk around the display case to view it from all angles, as well as to view the inside or back view of the gold easily. The exhibit is set within another display which gives on the spot information on the discovery on the burial within the stone lined grave at Bryn yr Ellyllon, on the outskirts of Mold in Flintshire. There is a free booklet available that gives lovely illustrations and lots of information for the visitor. Interestingly there are also comment cards that you are requested to complete, as a kind of feedback on the exhibition overall. Of course, I left my own very enthusiastic comments.
I was able to take lots of non-flash photographs throughout the exhibition. This is allowed unless notices specifically prevent this. Unfortunately, due to the photographic policy of the museum these can only be used for personal use or study and may not be presented elsewhere online. That’s fair enough, I suppose. The website does have images and further information.
Whilst attending exhibitions and events I try to check out accessibility for wheelchair users. This is important to allow access to everyone and can restrict the enjoyment of wheelchair users if not done properly. It can also impact upon visits including small children or pushchairs. I have to hold my hand up here and say that I was so awestruck by the cape itself that I didn’t remember to check this out. However, Mr B (or Mr Health and Safety as he is lovingly known) took full notice of this. He very reliably informed me that:
Accessibility: Wheelchair access is good throughout. There are lifts to all floors. Four wheelchairs are available on loan – just ask at the front desk or ring ahead to reserve.
Within the exhibition itself it was good to see that care had been taken to allow plenty of room for wheelchair movement between the exhibits. And, of importance, the cape itself was exhibited at a low level, which allowed perfect viewing for wheelchair users.
Plenty of museum attendants were on duty to assist if necessary.
Parking is free to disabled badge holders, in the car park located just behind the museum itself. You need to take your blue badge to the museum shop when buying your parking token – you need this to leave due to the barriers.
On-road disabled parking bays are available at the front of Museum on Gorsedd Gardens Road, but these can become quite sought after, due to the location of the museum in the centre of Cardiff. We went on Sunday and there was plenty of parking available nearby – although of course there is a charge for this, £2.70 for two hours, so not too bad.
More technical information is available from the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. Try searching ‘Mold Gold Cape’ with the period ‘Bronze Age’ in the drop down box. There is a lot more to be discovered on here than I can tell you in a short article.
Oh, and did I mention this was FREE? It cost £2.70 for the car park. That was all we paid.
The Dover Bronze Age Boat, when first discovered in 1992 during a road-building scheme and construction of an underpass, sparked several frantic days of rescue excavations to save it from destruction.
It was dated as being some 3500 years old (cue museum curator joke “I guess that makes it 3521 years old now then”). The boat was made using oak planks sewn together with yew lashings. This technique has a long tradition of use in British prehistory; the oldest known examples are from Ferriby in East Yorkshire (upon which the recent Falmouth Log Boat reconstruction was based).
Unfortunately, as the remains of the boat continued under a nearby building, the entire boat could not be rescued as part of the excavation, leading to speculation as to it’s true size. In total 9.5 metres of boat were excavated for preservation. At it’s widest point, the boat was 2 metres wide, ample room for two rowers to sit abreast.
In its buried situation, the boat was in an anaerobic environment, which meant that the wood was largely preserved. However, once uncovered, like the timbers of the Mary Rose and the ‘Seahenge’ timber circle, the wood started to decompose.
However, this process seems to be well understood, the timbers were kept in a waterlogged state and shipped to the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth for conservation. The preserved timbers were eventually returned to Dover for reassembly and display in 1998.
In March of 2012, a project was launched to build a half-sized replica of the boat, using mainly tools which would have been available at the time of the original (1550 BCE). Sadly, unlike the Falmouth project which launched successfully in 2013, the Dover boat did not fare so well. It would seem that the Falmouth project learned valuable lessons from the Dover experience.
The replica boat has since been ‘on tour’ in museums in France and Belgium, but has now returned to the UK where a Kickstarter project has recently been launched to raise funds to enable the replica to be ‘reworked’ to make it more watertight. The project will only be funded if at least £5,000 is pledged by Wednesday Jul 31, so visit the Kickstarter page, watch the video and make your pledge!
The eventual hope is to see it ply along the Kent coast, and possibly even across the Channel, as it no doubt used to do all those years ago. A new exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon’ has also opened recently in Dover Museum. It celebrates the cross-channel connections of 3,500 years ago, when the coastal communities in Kent probably had far more in common with communities on the other side of the channel than with most of the rest of Britain.
Update: The original goal of £5000 funding pledges has now been reached, with more than a week to go to the end of the funding period. Additional ‘stretch’ goals have now been added, with additional benefits for funders if these new goals are reached. See the KickStarter page for current details .
Good fun and good archaeological outreach seem to have been brought together by the admirable Guerrilla Archaeology – see here!
“This week we took delivery of seven deer skulls we will be using to recreate the Star Carr head-dresses. The originals are twenty-one adult red deer skull with antlers altered to be worn as head-dresses. They all date to the Early Mesolithic, about 9,500 years old, and were discovered at the site in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire, England. They may have been worn by hunters as a disguise, but it is more likely that they were part of a costume worn on special occasions, perhaps during religious ceremonies.”
Who wouldn’t want to wear one of those and walk round a prehistoric site?!
The gold zoomorphic mount form the Staffordshire Hoard. The mount portrays two eagles facing each other while holding a fish between them
The Symbolic Nature of Gold in Magical and Religious Contexts by Charlotte Behr (University of Roehampton) may be of interest. This paper is one of 27 presented at the Papers from the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium held at the British Museum in March of last year. In her paper Behr writes -
Gold can adopt many different meanings. In economic contexts it can acquire material value, in social contexts it can gain significance for status and position within a hierarchical structure, in religious contexts it can be used to express veneration of the divine or a divinity, in magical contexts it can be perceived as a material with inherent powerful qualities. We can define the symbolic nature of gold as a means of communication. That implies, firstly, communication among humans in different situations for different purposes but also, secondly, between humans and a spiritual world.
How can we use the study of the objects and their material to gain insight into contemporary mentality? I would like to make some brief remarks about the evidence we have for the significance of gold in religious and in magical relations, before suggesting some ideas why it may be fruitful to consider in the research of the Staffordshire Hoard the possibility that the gold in the hoard may have had – apart from its material value and social significance – an additional layer of meaning that connected the gold and the hoard to religious and/or magical spheres, quite apart from the crosses and the biblical inscription in the hoard with their obvious religious connotations. When we discuss economic, social or religious functions of the gold, and the hoard, we need to be aware that this distinction is more an analytical device than a reflection of a historical reality, where these different functions overlapped and were intricately related.
The rest of Charlotte Behr’s paper can be found here.
See also the video of the Hoard Conservation team discussing the silver fragments in the Hoard. The video shows one of the results of 3D scanning test on silver fragments by the National Conservation Centre at National Museums Liverpool. The test enabled conservators to see patterns and edges more clearly on the small number of fragments scanned in this way.
See also here.
Saturday, 16 July to Sunday, 17 July. 11:00–16:00.
Step back in time and meet our ancient ancestors by cave painting or by designing your own stone circle. Linked to the BBC’s Hands On History –The Ancients and the Stonehenge: henge diggers exhibition.
Location: The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester. Check out http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/yourvisit/travel/ for options.
The Wiltshire Heritage Museum will be hosting a Family Day entitled Ancient Britons from 11:00am on Sunday, 27 February 2011. Linked to the forthcoming BBC series, Ancient Briton, this Family Day will have activities for all the family.
We reported in February 2009 that the Peat Moor Centre was closing down which was a great pity at the time, but it seems that a new centre is to be built eventually on the old cafe and garden centre on Shapwick Road. It seems an adventurous architectural design but wholly appropiate for the prehistory of the marshes.
The Iron Age inhabitants of Somerset’s Avalon Marshes might have thought prehistoric architects were at work if they could see designs for the striking thatched visitor centre proposed for their old homeland.
The conical thatched buildings have been dubbed a “flotilla of coracles” by the partnership, including Natural England, which is planning the scheme.
The marshes are a network of wetlands of international importance for wildlife and archaeology. The remains of Iron Age houses lie under bumps in fields near Glastonbury, while an ancient log boat, pelicans’ bones and prehistoric wood and hurdle roads still lie in the peat.