The Gravefield At Sutton Hoo
An overview of the archeological discovery at Sutton Hoo in England and it's importance.
Buried within the earth overlooking the estuary of the River Deben in England, the Sutton Hoo ship was
discovered in 1939, only a few months before World War II broke out across Europe. In fact,orginial records of the
find were destroyed during the conflict and only pictures taken by amateur photographers survive to provide evidence of
the remarkable outline of the ship, which had been impressed into the sand.
Sutton Hoo can be described as a Saxon gravefield. The field consists of at least fifteen mounds or barrows of
different sizes. Some barrows on the site are eroded and are only obvious from the air. The landowner had previously
explored several of the burial mounds, but found they had been long since plundered. Only a few artifacts and iron bits
When the ship and it's contents were discovered, the landowner generously donated the items and artifacts to the
Some historians believe the burial ship was for a warrior king, most likely 7th century King Redwald of East
Anglia, who died about the year 624 AD. However no evidence of a body has been traced, leading some to assume the
ship may have been a cenotaph, or a special monument commemorating someone whose body was buried elsewhere.
The burial, called one of the most important archeological finds in England, contained a ship fully equipped for
the afterlife. It threw new light on the wealth and contacts of early Anglo-Saxon kings. The artifacts themselves and the
elaborate burial, lead scientists to believe the individual had to be a royal personage. Two unique, but enigmatic symbols
of power were included in the horde, a whetstone "scepter" and a mysterious iron stand which may have served as a
standard for the king.
The ship itself measured roughly 80 x 14 and held 41 objects of solid gold. Other significant finds include a
warrior helmet/mask, 37 coins, three unstruck coin blanks, silver utensils, and jewelry. Also included were large drinking
horns and other domestic items such as cups, bowls and bottles.
It is perhaps the helmet/mask which garners the most attention. Produced from a single piece of iron to which
are attached ear and neck guards, the helmet was fitted with decorative foil panels of tinned-bronze which depict animal
motifs. Heavy eyebrows and a mustache give the helmet a unique appearance.
As befitting any warrior king, a sword and shield were discovered. Although the leather and linden wood shield
rotted away, partial bits remain. The hilt of the sword has a lovely gold and cloisonne garnet pommel and gold guards.
The iron blade was corroded but scientists determined it had been pattern-welded, meaning it was made from bundles of
thin iron rods hammered together. Similar swords were greatly prized and often passed as a valued heirloom from one
generation to the next.
Some smaller personal objects, such as delicate fittings of the sword belt, a gold buckle, jewel-like shoulder
clasps and a purse lid are exquisite. Their quality workmenship suggests nothing less than a master goldsmith.
Sutton Hoo is located in the English county of Suffolk. A number of the artifacts are housed in the British
Museum in London.