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Wait, what?

If I may continue my theme for another day, have a gander at this thing. It’s called the Mold Gold Cape (it was found in a place called Mold in Wales in 1833).

It’s an extraordinary thing. It’s sort of a shoulder cape hammered from a single piece of gold (the raw gold must have been about the size of a ping pong ball), then decorated all over with repoussé. They reckon it’s nearly 4,000 years old.

Four thousand years. That is a stunning level of craftsmanship for the time. Moreover, though there was mining in the area, there were no big cities nearby, no great dynasties that they know. Just this amazing thing buried on a hill in the middle of sweet fuck all.

It was dug up with a skeleton by workmen. This being 1833, they divvied up the gold (the cape was already broken in bits by time and earth) and scattered anything else they found. Fortunately, the British Museum got wind of it through a local and managed to buy back most of the pieces right away, though there are still a few fragments missing, and almost none of the other grave good survived.

I learned about this from a popular BBC Radio Series called a History of the World in 100 objects. It’s one hundred fifteen-minute podcasts about interesting and important objects in the British Museum, arranged in chronological order, chosen and narrated by the chief curator. I’m pretty sure if you hit the link, you guys are allowed to download and listen to this one. Great history in handy bite-sized chunks (if a little lefty in parts). Mucho recommendo.

The Mold Gold Cape is episode 19, and here’s how it starts:

For the local workmen, it must have seemed as if the old Welsh legends were true. They’d been sent to quarry stone in a field known as Bryn-yr-Ellyllon, which translates as the Fairies’ or the Goblins’ Hill. Sightings of a ghostly boy, clad in gold, a glittering apparition in the moonlight, had been reported frequently enough for travellers to avoid the hill after dark. As the workmen dug into a large mound, they uncovered a stone-lined grave. In it were hundreds of amber beads, several bronze fragments, and the remains of a skeleton. And wrapped around the skeleton was a mysterious crushed object – a large and finely decorated broken sheet of pure gold.

The fuck, BBC? We’re just going to walk on by that, really? See, this is where Brits can be entirely too blasé.

Three possibilities. One – it isn’t true; there weren’t any such sightings (but it’s hard to get a more rigorous source than the British Effing Museum). Two – hells yes, a ghost haunted this treasure for forty centuries (I’m not of a mystical bent, but what the hell – humility is the essence of science). Three – distant memories of a grand and famous burial persisted in local legend for four thousand years.

Holy cats.


Comment from dissent555
Time: April 2, 2014, 10:53 pm

A simple time machine could settle these kinds of controversies quickly.

Just sayin’.

Comment from Man Mountain Molehill
Time: April 2, 2014, 11:41 pm

Genes and memes-

The modern Welsh are genetically very similar to their neolithic ancestors, so why not their mythos as well?

Joseph Campbell reported evidence that Eskimos have folk memories of mammoths.

England and Wales must have been a happening place
6000 years ago. West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, Avebury, and now this.

Comment from The Neon Madman
Time: April 3, 2014, 3:53 am

I like #3. There’s few other old legends that I’d like to think might have some basis in an ancient hero, or other event.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: April 3, 2014, 7:43 pm

I think Campbell had a point, MMM. At a time before writing, the oral tradition was essential and mastery of it compulsory for the learned. In our own lifetimes, people learned reams of poetry off by heart.

As Her Stoatliness pointed out to me just t’other day, the mammoths were still stumping around during the reign of the Egyptian pharoahs – which is just the blink of an eye away (as the cats remind me, daily).

Comment from Nina
Time: April 3, 2014, 9:38 pm

I’d really like to see this thing!

That’s it, must go back to England!

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: April 4, 2014, 3:27 pm

Uncle Badger writes: As Her Stoatliness pointed out to me just t’other day, the mammoths were still stumping around during the reign of the Egyptian pharoahs – which is just the blink of an eye away (as the cats remind me, daily).
This reminds me of the classic New Yorker cartoon in which the exasperated human tells his arrogant cat, “The fact you cats were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt cuts no ice with me.”

Comment from Professor Hale
Time: April 17, 2014, 5:41 pm

It’s not as if the British Isles have been isolated from the rest of the world all this time. They were a part of the Roman Empire and had travelers visit from the rest of the know world at the time. It is very possible that the object isn’t originally from anywhere near there.

A thousand years from now people will find our artifacts on the Moon and credibly print that a race of ancient space travelers must have had an outpost there.

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