Sutton Hoo: One of the most magnificent archaeological finds in England

It was in the 7th century when Redwald, son of Tytila, grandson of Wuffa of East Anglia and a member of the Wuffingas dynasty, started his reign as the King of East Anglia, a kingdom known far and wide across the world as the heartland of the Anglo-Saxons.

Ten years before his death, Redwald stood as the most powerful king south of the river Humber, thus earning the name of “Bretwalda”, which meant “Britain-ruler” or “wide-ruler”.

A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet produced for the British Museum by the Royal Armouries. Photo Credit
A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet produced for the British Museum by the Royal Armouries. Photo Credit

But he wouldn’t be remembered as a king if not for his burial, which was the most magnificent ceremony ever held in ancient Britain. Redwald died in 624 and was buried in a 27-meter long ship.

Sutton Hoo, Saxon Burial Site. Photo Credit
Sutton Hoo, Saxon Burial Site. Photo Credit

It was in these burial grounds that Sutton Hoo was discovered, a site that held both 6th and early 7th-century cemeteries.

Besides the remains of the ship, a beautiful suite of unmatched metalwork covered in gold and fine gems, a ceremonial helmet, a shield and sword, a lyre, a total of 37 gold coins were found with the ship burial and lots of other priceless artifacts.

If not for the location, one might even say that this was the world described in the old English poem Beowulf, which is set in southern Sweden.

Shield ornament from the Sutton Hoo burial, British Museum. Photo Credit
Shield ornament from the Sutton Hoo burial, British Museum. Photo Credit

First came the people from the Neolithic period that inhabited this area some 3,000 years ago. Next were the people from the Bronze Age, thriving communities that started the long tradition of metal working.

One of the two identical shoulder-clasps. Photo Credit
One of the two identical shoulder-clasps. Photo Credit

But it was the Anglo-Saxons that brought the greatest changes. Their language evolved into Old English, a form of Germanic language, and their customs are still widely studied today.

In the mound that held the king, some very important and rare artifacts were found, including blue glass cups, two gilt-bronze discs with animal ornaments, a silver buckle, a stud from a buckle covered with gold, silver-gilt drinking horn-mounts, and two fragments of dragon-like mounts or plaques

Shoulder-clasps from Sutton Hoo, British Museum. Photo Credit
Shoulder-clasps from Sutton Hoo, British Museum. Photo Credit

But not all of the finds were gold and gems and dragon ornaments. Sutton Hoo was also the site of a number of terrible deaths, some by hanging and some by decapitation.

A total of 18 mounds were found, and inside mound 17, archaeologists found the remains of a young prince buried together with his horse.

The Great Buckle. Photo Credit
The Great Buckle. Photo Credit

“Use this in good health, Master Count, for many happy years.” was the inscription in Greek on the so-called “Bromewell bucket” found on the new grave filed in 2000.

The most astonishing fact is that this bowl had traveled 1,507 miles to rich the hands of its master.

Purse Cover from Sutton Hoo burial. Photo Credit
Purse Cover from Sutton Hoo burial. Photo Credit

Today Sutton Hoo is the cornerstone of the study of art in Britain in the 6th -9th centuries, studies that respect the works of the early master goldsmiths.

The treasures from Sutton Hoo, once hidden but now revealed, speak volumes about the pre-Christian collection of priceless objects from diverse cultural sources.

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