The treasure discovered in Suffolk is probably the most important archaeological find in British history.
Amateur archaeologist Basil Brown found a medieval Saxon grave at Sutton Hoo in 1939. The find consisted of a burial chamber within a longship. The treasures it contained far exceeded any other early medieval tomb discovered in Europe.
The find is named after the estate on which it was discovered. Hoo means spur of land in Old English.
How Was Sutton Hoo Discovered
Amateur Basil Brown began exploring the area in 1938. He had been asked on to the property by the estate Edith Pretty owner, who believed that something important could be found under the Roman burial mounds nearby.
The war delayed excavations, but over the next few decades, professional archaeologists explored the site thoroughly. Over time, they found that the area yielded the most significant treasure ever discovered in the United Kingdom.
What was in Sutton Hoo?
The ship they found was very large, measuring 88.6 feet in length. This was a surprising find since the sea is about 10 miles away from the site. Most experts believe the boat was dragged uphill from the River Deben, which is 4 miles away from the site.
However, the level of the riches found within was even more unexpected. There was silverware originating in distant Byzantium. It contained garments adorned by garnets from the even more distant island of Sri Lanka. Aside from those exotic treasures, they also found a significant amount of gold.
There was also a good deal of weaponry in the tomb. Placing arms and weapons in the final resting place was clearly meant to signify that the individual was a great warrior.
A sword was placed on the left side of the body, and a spear on the right there was a set of spears. Other significant artifacts include a gorgeous and extravagant belt buckle, a shield of gold, and several brooches.
The Helmet of Sutton Hoo
Perhaps the most famous of these warlike relics is the helmet discovered at Sutton Hoo. It is made of tinned copper alloy and includes many iron parts.
When the helmet was found, it had been shattered into hundreds of pieces. However, it has since been reconstructed through a meticulous process.
There are illustrated etchings in the helmet, representing warriors fighting and dancing. Meanwhile, the helmet itself is shaped like a dragon. The eyebrows on the helmet are the wings of the dragon, and the mustache represents its tail.
The helmet decorations are quite similar to those found on contemporary helmets in Sweden. However, the helmet found at Sutton Hoo is far better crafted than comparable items found in Scandinavia.
Who Was Buried at Sutton Hoo?
The tomb has been dated to the early Seventh Century. This period was early in the years of Saxon domination in what would later become England.
The creation of the tomb involved a good deal of effort. Those involved in construction would have had to drag the ship uphill from the river. Next, the construction team would have dug a deep trench and built the chamber.
Following that, they decorated the chamber and raised the mound which housed it. Experts also believe that in this period, burial in a ship was considered an exceedingly high honor.
Needless to say, the person must have been significant to warrant this kind of treatment. However, the body that was once housed within the tomb has been eaten away by the acidic soil over the years. Nothing remains of the corpse.
Therefore, most historians and archaeologists assume that the buried individual was a king. One possible candidate for this honor is Raedwald, a notable king of East Anglia in the early Seventh Century. However, the lack of a body to examine, or any written records, make identification impossible.
However, we can assume that the buried individual was left-handed. A sword was placed at the left side of where the body would have been.
What Can We Learn from Sutton Hoo?
The treasure at Sutton Hoo is a godsend for experts of early Medieval Britain. It dispels some popular myths about the time. For example, the belief that after the Romans left Britain, it fell into a dark age of poverty and misery.
The find shows that the elite in Britain was quite wealthy and that there was extensive trade with the rest of the world at that time. It is yet another sign that the medieval era was no dark age but a vibrant and fascinating period in history.