Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the Sutton Who? ?

No, it’s the Sutton Hoo and is considered the greatest archeological find in Anglo-Saxon history.  They are group of burial mounds of ca. 600 AD located on what was private property (the 225 acre Sutton Hoo Estate) overlooking the river Deben in the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.   Initially, only two of the seventeen mounds were excavated in the summers of 1939.

 What did these mounds look like?
Part of the Sutton Hoo gravefield showing Mound 1 and others (foreground), Mound 2, reconstructed (middle distance) and Sutton Hoo House (distance). Author: Dr. Steven Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons
Prior to excavation, the mounds appeared as random hills located on heathlands.    As a side note, during WWII ditches were added to Suffolk heathlands to discourage enemy gliders from landing there.

Burial mound 2 at Sutton Hoo, England; as reconstructed after excavation to supposed original Anglo-Saxon form, looking east, showing the surrounding quarry-ditch. Wikimedia Commons

What was found in the mounds?

An archeologist found burial ships in the style of Viking “clinker built” ships  buried in the mounds.  It was only the second time in history that a burial ship had been found. 
Replica of the ship from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. Author: Russell Scott, Wikimedia Commons

Long and slender, these ships were shallow with what appeared to be two bows. Not only were they used as burial ships, but as transport vessels.  Depending on their size, “clinker built” ships could carry just enough people to raid and pillage down European river systems and back home again.  On the other hand, they could swiftly move across large bodies of water.  

Screen capture of image from home movie, shot by Harold John Phillips, of 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo burial ship. Permission for unlimited use granted by son William Phillips. Uploaded by grandson Jeremy Gilbert, Wikimedia Commons

Model of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. The placement of the burial chamber is marked white.
Author: Steven J. Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons

The largest Sutton Hoo burial ship was 90 feet long.  Because most of the ship had rotted away, there was only an impression left of its structure in the soil, plus the metal nails.   

It also contained a hoard of treasures fit-for-a-king, and that’s who was buried there, a great king.  They found a sword, scepter, silver utensils, gold coins, jewelry including belt buckle, garment clasps, and a purse lid of precious metal with precious stones such as garnet, and intricate enamel work. 

Sutton Hoo purse lid, British Museum, Photo by Robroyaus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. The design elements are sitting on a newly created background as the original had rotted away.

Shoulder clasp (open) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. Gold and precious stones.

Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Anglo-Saxon golden belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, Suffolk (England). 7th century AD. British Museum. Author: Michel wal Creative Commons Attribution License.

Bottom of hanging-bowl 2 from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License.  Metal fragments of the bowl have been positioned on a glass framework.

Replica of gold coins and ingots from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. 37 coins, 3 blanks, 2 small ingots. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License

Fragments of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Reg. No. 1939,1010.203, Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

Replica of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Maplewood, with electrotyped fittings, bone bridge and gut strings.
 Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

The most famous treasure was a helmet with full face mask. 

Sutton Hoo parade helmet ( British Museum, restored). Although based on late Romanhelmets of spangenhelm type, the immediatecomparisons are with contemporary Vendel Age helmets from eastern Sweden.wikipedia commons 
Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. 7th century AD. British Museum.

These art treasures of ca. 600 AD, and more, are currently housed in the British Museum.

What about textiles and the Sutton Hoo?
“Textiles (around and on the central structure).  The burial chamber was evidently rich in textiles, represented by many fragments preserved, or replaced by metal corrosion products. They included quantities of twill (possibly from cloaks, blankets or hangings), and the remains of cloaks with characteristic long-pile weaving. There appear to have been more exotic coloured hangings or spreads, including some (possibly imported) woven in stepped lozenge patterns using a Syrian technique in which the weft is looped around the warp to create a textured surface. Two other colour-patterned textiles, near the head and foot of the body area, resemble Scandinavian work of the same period.”  Wikipedia Commons

Until next time,

Mary B.

      ·       Field Trip!!! (In my dreams):

      ·       Here’s a Kahn Academy link to the Sutton Hoo.
·        Here’s a highly academic connection between the Sutton Hoo and art history:
“Sutton Hoo is a cornerstone of the study of art in Britain in the 6th–9th centuries. Professor Henderson, summarising, calls the ship treasures 'the first proven hothouse for the incubation of the Insular style.' A full assemblage of objects of very varied origins are combined among the possessions of a person of the highest social degree. The gold and garnet fittings show the creative fusion of foregoing techniques and motifs derived from them, by a master-goldsmith working for such a patron.
From the gathering together of such possessions, and the combination or transformation of their themes and techniques in new productions, the synthesis of Insular art emerges. Drawing on Irish, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon, native British and Mediterranean artistic sources, Insular art is a fusion more complex than the purely Anglo-Irish expressed by ' Hiberno-Saxon' art. The 7th century Book of Durrow, first survival of the gospel-book series including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, owes as much to Pictish sculpture, to British millefiori and enamelwork and Anglo-Saxon cloisonne metalwork, as to Irish art.
This fusion in the Sutton Hoo treasury and workshop precedes the (often royal) religious context of the scriptoria. There is thus a continuum from pre-Christian royal accumulation of precious objects from diverse cultural sources, through to the art of gospel-books, shrines and liturgical or dynastic objects in which those elements were blended. It is a parallel expression of the formation of English and Insular cultural identity, and the dissemination of royal values. That is part of the fascination of Sutton Hoo.”  Wikipedia Commons


  1. Mary, let's go to East Suffolk! We too briefly visited the area ( Bury St. Edmonds & Lavenham), know a perfect B & B and are chomping to explore further. Found your writing interesting & compelling; thanks for sending me the link!
    xo, L

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