The Mold Gold Cape

The beautiful Mold Gold Cape is certainly worth having another look at. This wonderful article was found in 1833 by workmen quarrying for stone when they came upon a stone cist. They had been digging in a burial mound named Bryn yr Ellylon, the Ghost or Goblins’ Hill near Mold, Wales. The person in the cist was wearing the cape. Unfortunately the skeletal remains were fragmentary and the cape crushed and broken into several pieces. Many pieces were removed by various people, and it took many years to gather as much as possible.

At first it was thought to have been a corselet or breast plate which passed beneath the arms, but by 1904 the British Museum was presenting it as a chest ornament for a pony. By 1950, it was finally suggested that it could be a cape. Another fifty two years went by before all the pieces had been put together, which proved that it was a cape. A cape which would only have fitted a slight person, thought to have been a woman. No weapons, axe, mace, ‘wrist guards’ or other male accoutrements were found with this person.

                                                                             The Amazing Detail

The cape was made out of a single ingot of gold, which was then decorated with rows and rows of different shapes. It looks rather like strands of beads between folds of cloth. The motifs have both Continental and indigenous roots. Some similar designs have been found in France, which are believed to have drawn on designs from central Europe. The lenticular bosses have been found on bronze spacer plates for a necklace  in Migdale, Scotland, and on a bronze armlet from Melfort, Scotland. This motif, surrounded by fine dots outlining the shape, seems to have been used in Scotland for some time, and appears to be part of the indigenous repertoire. This cape is unlike anything found from that time period, or any other period. The craftsman was an exceptional goldsmith, with an impressive artistic flair. It must have made a huge impression on all those who saw this object. At that time, 1900-1600 BCE, it is estimated that there may have only been fifty bronze daggers in all of the UK and Ireland. So most folks were still using stone tools, while this person was walking about with a gold cape.

I think of these shapes as houses (large domes); seeds (small domes); lenticular shapes (beans); pyramid shapes ( temples?); rectangular shapes (metal ingots). However, the most standard shape of ingots in ancient times is shown in fig. A. A hieroglyph from Urartu, an Iron Age kingdom around Lake Van and Lake Urmia, looks more like fig. B. So perhaps these shapes are meant to be ingots of metal.

It is believed that this very wealthy person may have had connections to the Great Orme copper mine, which was the biggest copper mine in Europe at that time. Who and what was this person? Queen? Priestess? The Oracle? “Oracles are best in the defence”, says the side of the Queen Stone which points in the direction of  North Wales. The Neolithic house below, named Cul a Bhail, was found on Jura, an island off the west coast  of Scotland. It is very much like a tholos, although they were more dome shaped. But different materials sometimes make for a slightly different shape. The tholoi on Cyprus had stone foundations and mud brick domes, and in Mesopotamia they were made from mud brick. The mud brick was plastered over with adobe, while this house was made of stone, wood and thatch but the basic idea is the same.

                                                                            Cul a Bhail, Jura

There were bronze straps, other flat pieces of gold work, and 200 to 300 amber beads found with the cape. The bronze straps are thought to have given the cape extra support. The other gold pieces are a puzzle, no one seems to know what they may have been. It is thought that the cape was lined with leather, and decorated with the amber beads at the neckline and at the bottom. This could have been done all in one step. The amber beads would have covered the holes in the gold around the edges. This article has no designs the same as those found on the treasures from Bush Barrow, Golden Barrow, or Clandon Barrow. Although it has been dated 1900-1600 BCE just like Bush Barrow and the others, it isn’t known whether the same person made this cape.

I did find a similar design element on a Vinca bowl, which is quite a bit older than the cape. Possibly older by 2000 years. However, this is quite interesting due to the fact that Ogham has many of the same symbols which are found among Vinca or Old European script.                                                                            Vinca bowl

 Vinca or Old European script with Ogham symbols underlined with red.  The people of the Vinca culture are the oldest metallurgists to date. Their culture seems to have come to an end around 3200 BCE, more or less pushed out by other Indo-Europeans migrating in, at which time many of these people migrated to other places. Vinca territory included Serbia, and parts of Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The Varna culture, also in that area and closer to the Black Sea, was not far from Vinca territory, and they were making gold ornaments in 5000 BCE. There were so many ornaments that archaeologists came to the conclusion that these were very common, everyday decorations, since they were found all over the settlements, and not just in graves. This whole area eventually became Thrace. The Thracians were well known for their beautiful metal work. The following map shows the dispersal pattern of the Vinca in green. Their artefacts have been found as far away as France. And perhaps Wales?

There are several reasons for this theory. The biggest copper mine in Europe was at the Great Orme in Wales at the time when the cape was made. Ogham uses many Vinca symbols. The Vinca spoke a Proto-Indo-European language, wherein W and Y were used both as vowels and consonants. This is also why the Welsh language seems full of consonants, but W is pronounced oo or eu in Welsh, and Y is usually pronounced as I. This makes a word such as Llwyd seem so impossible to say. Ll also has its own pronunciation which is impossible to describe on paper. The last piece of this theory has to do with Y haplogroup E1b1b1, it is one of the unusual varieties in the British Isles, and is said to have spread from the Balkans, which is where the Vinca culture was. In the North Wales town of Abergele, 33% of the men tested, carried this DNA.

The three blue squares are at Mold, Abergele and the Great Orme. Abergele is closer to the copper mine than Mold is. Did some of the Vinca make it to Wales, take up mining copper, and become wealthy enough to have the gold cape made?

The picture above shows a painted Vinca vase, the date is not given, but would be before 3200 BCE, and possibly a thousand years older. It has a design made like an M, but it is actually two separate pieces which make up this M. It’s more like a 7 and a backward 7. This sign can be found several times in the script, used several different ways. In this case there is a face above the V. It looks like the Akhet again. The Sun between two mountain peaks. Looks very much like the Akhet on the Folkton Drums. The Balkans are named Old Europe, it had settlements of 2500 people and more, a thousand years before such things show up in Mesopotamia, unless the dates for that area are incorrect. This was a well organized society with orderly villages, farming, fishing, gathering and hunting. There seems to have been enough surplus food so that people had extra time for pottery, weaving, mining and metallurgy. Their religion was based on the Mother Goddess, the Earth and her attendant the Bull/Sun God. That isn’t all that different from Celtic religion with its Triple Goddess, the Earth, and Cernunnos, her stag/man/Sun consort. The bull has been an important symbol since very ancient times. Some of the oldest ‘cult’ figures were small stone bulls made at Mureybet. It figures heavily in Celtic art. The Vinca culture was already a well developed society by 5000 BCE, and may be at the root of all later higher civilizations, such as Sumer, Egypt and Crete. Then again, we haven’t seen everything which will be excavated at Gobekli Tepe as yet. Their stone carving was very advanced for 9000 BCE.

Archaeology is full of puzzles and amazing finds, which are changing our view of the people in ancient times. Thanks to modern technology, anyone can scan the earth for geoglyphs, odd formations, see the different colours in fields, indicating buildings, tumuli, roads, etc. Or they can look at the ocean floor, and spot ancient flooded settlements, old coastlines, ancient lakes and rivers, and sometimes find things which look like roads. It’s a fascinating world, I just wish we knew more about it.

References and Pictures

Gold Mold Cape; The British Museum, Wrexham Museum, Wikipedia

Old Europe by Philip Coppens

Vinca Culture; Projekat Rastko: and Professor Nenad Tasic about Vinca and world archaeology, from examiner.com

Vinca footed bowl and article, Internet Library of Serbian Culture: Archaeology.

Vinca vase from Oracle ThinkQuest

Vinca Culture, Wikipedia

Vinca symbols, Wikipedia

Old Europe (archaeology) Wikipedia

Map of Neolithic expansion, Wikipedia

Genetic History of the British Isles, Wikipedia

Proto-Indo-European-Language, Wikipedia

House on Jura, theisleofjura.co.uk

Map of North Wales, touristnet.uk.com

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A Disease?

                                                                         Ancestor

History, even ancient history, brings us stories about disease. Since recorded history we have been able to look back at many outbreaks of various virulent diseases. The records of such things in really ancient history are much scarcer. In fact, the field is narrowed considerably by the time we reach c2000 BCE. Most of these stories come from religious texts, where we can read about all sorts of afflictions which hit various people at different times. These events are generally put down to, God’s wrath.

Some of them have been looked at carefully by experts. One army seems to have been decimated through their contact with mice. The experts think that the place they were camped at was over run by mice, and that the soldiers picked up a deadly disease because of it. But this incidence was interpreted in the religious text as God’s wrath. Obviously no one knew just exactly what happened, other than the enemy’s army was practically wiped out. Must have been God’s wrath, said the recorders of this event. We can forgive their ignorance since the answer was quite technical and needed a microscope among other things. But it could always be argued that the mice were God’s wrath.

There’s a story in the Irish mythologies which also tells of one group of people who died “all in the space of one day”. No doubt a bit of an exaggeration, but the point being that the people became ill and died soon after. All of them, which is likely also an exaggeration, but obviously took a large percentage of the population. After all, if they all died, who would be left to tell the tale? This story comes to us through Fintan, the Ancient White One. He recounts the history of the different groups of people who went to Ireland in ancient times. One whole group of people became ill and died. God’s wrath didn’t come into it at all, not even the monks added that. In fact, no reason for their illness is given at all. There was no moralizing about their life style, nor anything negative connected to the story of these people. This is also about the only time that you read about such a thing happening in the Irish mythologies. Obviously a large event which made a lasting impression.

The question is, would rulers of city states in ancient times have allowed their scribes to record such events, or did they just stick to recording religious rites, trade, battles, treaties, marriages, deaths, etc.? It wouldn’t be good for trade if you let on there was a problem. No ruler was going to admit publicly, that he was out of favour with God or the gods. The population would make up its own mind about that. For instance, did the Egyptians record the various things which befell them during the time of Moses? It would seem not, since the experts still don’t know whether Moses really existed , never mind which Pharaoh was ruler at that supposed time. So far there has been nothing found in Egyptian records about these events.

Most ancient societies seem to have been heavily influenced by their belief in God or the gods. Any city-state or country to suffer a great loss of life through disease would have been believed to have been cursed by God or the gods. It’s not likely that the rulers of such places would record such a thing. Anyone among the educated and craftsmen would have abandoned the place if they could. No one would want to live in a place that was cursed. No one would want to live in a place where people were dying wholesale of a disease. The peasants and poor would have been left behind and likely died. This is what has always happened throughout history. It was always the educated, affluent and talented that were  the most mobile, the poor generally stayed in place.

It isn’t likely that the people leaving would tell their sorry tale when they got to wherever they were going. If they settled in a new community, it isn’t likely that they would tell people that they had come from a place that was cursed. Nor would they have mentioned disease and people dying of that disease. They would have been shunned by the people in their new chosen community. If this new group of people had found out what had happened, and anything bad happened in their territory, the new comers would have been blamed. It wouldn’t matter if the disease was different or if it was the sheep that were ill and dying, the newcomers would still have been blamed. It isn’t that long ago that there were actual witch hunts. Sometimes over nothing more than a bad crop or a sick cow.

After reading a great deal of history, it became  obvious that something quite out of the ordinary happened c3200 BCE. Something which seems to have changed a great many things. It has been estimated that Mesopotamia lost about sixty thousand of its citizens. Uruk was the only city to gain in population, but all the other big cities like Ur and Eridu, as well as the countryside, seem to have lost people. Some have attributed this sudden decline in population to the dispersal after the Tower of Babel incident. No famine, weather or war details seem to account for this. Suddenly, all sorts of new constructions in many different places took place. Civilizations, fully functional, with every sort of craft, astronomers, priests, kings, scribes, smiths, architects, farmers, etc. pops up in places which saw nothing but hunter- gatherers and homestead farmers before that. All of them under unexplained circumstances, leaving us wondering, why then? What caused this sudden explosion of seeming knowledge of building, etc.? Why does there seem to have been mass movements of people? Apart from the Tower of Babel, disease could be the answer.

The Feudal System came to a crashing halt after the plague took hold of Europe. If there is little recorded history of those times in five thousand years, will archaeologists be left scratching their heads then also? What will they make of the remains in the plague pits were people were buried by the hundreds? Will they think disease or massacre? Such mass graves exist also. Or will they come across a few records mentioning this disease, and then think the masses of dead were victims of human sacrifice? Knowing what we know makes this sound illogical, but if you had nothing to go by but a few scraps of paper here and  there, if any survived, and then you found one of those plague pits…………………? One of the current ideas is that Stonehenge was a Temple of death, will archaeologists think that of Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral? After all, there are a great many people buried within them.

We can only see through a glass darkly in the field of ancient history. Our knowledge of them is miniscule compared to the vibrant life such city states must have embodied.   All that is left are fragments of cities, bones, weapons, pottery and some spectacular treasures, by which these places have been dated. Experts debate about the meaning of carvings, wall paintings, sculpture,  ancient religions, etc. There are more opinions out there than there are artefacts. Opinions also change, some of what was believed in the 1800s is now considered archaic.

The Mold Gold Cape is one of the most outstanding sheet gold artefacts which has been found. It is unique, in a class of its own, and nothing like it has been found anywhere else in the world. It was hammered out of one ingot of gold. Found broken and in fragments at Bryn yr Ellylon near Mold, Flintshire, Wales in 1830, it was first thought to have been a corselet or breast-plate which passed under the arms. In 1904 the British Museum was presenting it as a chest ornament for a pony. It wasn’t until 1950 that its form suggested that it was a cape, and it wasn’t until 2002 that all the missing pieces were put together, proving that it was a cape. It is dated 1900-1600 BCE, and it is not known whether this was buried with a man or a woman. However, since it is only 18 inches wide, it is thought to have been a woman. Some 200 to 300 hundred amber beads were also found, presumably part of the decoration of the cape. Only one bead remains in the British Museum.

Although we can admire the amazing artistry which went into creating this cape, it tells us next to nothing about the society this person lived in, except that there was a certain amount of wealth, and that it was likely connected to the Great Orme copper mine. It tells us nothing about the person who wore this cape, only that she must have been important. How then can we try to interpret these people’s motives for doing certain things? Like seemingly abandoning one area of the globe, after which ‘civilization’ comes fully formed in other parts, when there is no concrete evidence to show us why this occurred.

Ancestor by Susan Seddon Boulet

The Mold Gold Cape, The British Museum