This is the story of the Sutton Hoo Burial. An archaeological dig that had profound importance for our understanding of Anglo Saxon life and especially the respect they must have shown to their rulers when they eventually died. I do not intend to write prodigious amounts on this subject because there are many books and web sites that can recount it much better than I can. What I hope to achieve is to take you back in time with the aid of diagrams and maps of where Sutton Hoo is and how it possibly may have looked in those days. I have created some graphics that are from the actual artefacts found. The images are re-produced are slightly different as I have tried to recreate how they may have looked when new. I am still astounded by the complexity and beauty of some of the items. After reading and viewing this section, you may think differently about the Saxons as I now do.
What Is Sutton Hoo?
Sutton Hoo is a Saxon graveyard. It would be more accurate to call the area a gravefield. Having said this – and as will be explained later, the question of the purpose of the site leaves a few questions unanswered. The gravefield consists of at least fifteen mounds or barrows of differing sizes. Some barrows on the site are eroded and are really only evident from aerial photography. The extent of the gravefield has not yet been fully ascertained to any accuracy. It possible that others may exist. The graphic below gives some idea of what it may have looked like in the sixth or seventh centuries. This as we shall learn, correlates to the dating of the uncovered artefacts. The importance of the finds at Sutton Hoo is impossible to overestimate. It was one of the most significant finds of early Saxon occupation. This is the story of that excavation and the race against time before the outbreak of World War II. The treasure recovered and the techniques used to prove that the area was indeed a gravefield.
Where Is Sutton Hoo?
Sutton Hoo is in the English County of Suffolk, located on the eastern side of England in an area known today as East Anglia. The position of East Anglia is on the map below. Located approximately 12 Km north east of the town of Ipswich lays the gravefield now known as Sutton Hoo. The more detailed map shows the actual location with respect to the River Deben and is about 5 Km inland and east of the estuary.
|East Anglia. Located on the eastern side of England below the Wash. It is the flattest part of the country and the home of one of the Saxon settlers known as Angles. The words – Anglo Saxon come from these people.|
|The Location in East Anglia of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Located on the River Deben where the finest ever discovery of Saxon treasure was made.|
|The actual burial site in East Anglia of the Sutton Hoo mounds can be observed on this map. This image is from a 1953 survey of the area and is the oldest map that I have been able to obtain. Very little would have changed since 1939 as far as roads and landmarks are concerned. The River Deben is on the left.|
The Excavation of Sutton Hoo Begins
It is noteworthy that these low burial mounds would possibly still remain largely undisturbed today if it were not for the enthusiasm of the landowner. In 1938 – a Mrs Edith Pretty, inspired by an earlier archaeological trip to Egypt returned with a curiosity about the barrows that were on her land. She realised that there was a possibility that they held something that may be historically interesting. Little did she know that it would eventually turn out to be one of the most important archaeological finds made in England of early Saxon treasure and relics.
In the first half of 1938, Edith Pretty began to look for someone to help her excavate the site. She eventually contacted the curator of the Ipswich museum. Guy Maynard, the curator listened to Mrs Pretty and decided to refer her to an individual called Basil Brown.
Basil Brown was an archaeologist and familiar with the area. Due to the particularly sandy soil at the site, it was important that any archaeological dig carried out was with care and caution – which was sensible – as it turned out later to be. Basil brown met with Mrs Pretty and discussed the task and the complications of removing tons of sandy soil. Obviously not a one-man operation. Mrs Pretty volunteered her gardener named – John Jacobs and gamekeeper – William Spooner.
|Sutton Hoo interpretation. Barrow one is in the foreground and the natural grassy terrain has been removed to give a better impression of their form.|
Any archaeologist likes to start on an undisturbed site. Mrs Pretty on the other hand wanted Basil Brown to begin his excavations on the largest mound. Basil was not too keen on this idea because it had shown signs of disturbance. He eventually persuaded Mrs Pretty, who must have bowed to his experience, that barrow 3 would be the best place. The dig commenced on the 20th June 1938.
Due to the lack of disturbance and the fact that grave robbing was not the sole preserve to the pyramids of Egypt, the signs of post construction tampering were absent. The task confronting Basil brown and his two recruited helpers was enormous. Mound or barrow 3 was 25 metres wide and about 1.5 metres high. Basil decided to start on the west side and cut an exploratory trench in an easterly direction. His trench was about a metre and a half wide and he slowly progressed towards the centre of the mound. Almost at the centre, he noticed a that there were signs of excavation that were not similar to the soil he had removed. His pulse must have raced at this discovery. His first priority was to estimate the scale of his find. He decided to excavate a 3 metre square in the centre. Once the trench over-spill had been removed – Brown began to dig below ground level.
Within 2 metres, he came across what looked like an oak plank or platter almost 2 metres long by about half a metre wide. This decayed plank contained the remains of a human being and a horse. Both cremated bodies were together on the platter. This man’s horse would have been sacrificed after his death. Other Bone shards were also found which were possibly from the decoration of the man’s possessions. Also buried with him was a jug and throwing axe called a fransisca. Throwing axes were short handled and heavily weighted at the blade end. Basil brown must have become inspired by his discovery because he moved directly on to barrow two.
|Another interpretation showing the full fifteen mounds to approximate scale. This is possibly how the Sutton Hoo site would of looked around the time of their construction. Erosion and other soil movements over the centuries have now made them flatter than they were originally. Barrow 1 is in the foreground.|
This excavation which was sponsored by Mrs Edith Pretty makes it all the more surprising that he decided to attempt mound 3 instead of mound 1 that Mrs Pretty originally indicated her preference for. However the conversation went between the two, he must have persuaded her that mound 2 was more likely to uncover objects of interest than the obviously disturbed mound 1.
What was more surprising was that this barrow appeared more disturbed than mound 1. Basil Browns reasons for choosing this mound are not clear but the excavation began. With the same helpers, he began on the east side this time and dug his trench towards the west. It is interesting to speculate why Basil Brown dug in this direction. Was it to do with the light and the sun position or did he perceive the idea that there could possibly be something buried that warranted digging in this direction? This time his trench was slightly wider than in mound 3, but his technique was the same. This mound was slightly wider and higher than mound 2 and measured 28 metres wide by approximately 2.5 metres high. After removing 6 metres of soil, he came across his first sign of interest. A patch of discoloured soil that could possibly have been caused by fire. This may have been from the original constructors of the barrow. Moving further towards the centre, he made his first real discovery. Two iron nails or rivet like pins were recovered. It probably didn’t take Basil Brown long to realise what these rivets could possibly mean. Continuing on, Brown found more rivets in the exploratory trench. He also realised that to find these rivets where they were indicated that considerable tampering had taken place at a later date. He continued towards the centre. Basil Brown became disappointed when he found its contents ransacked.
He recovered bits and pieces of what would have been vital evidence for our understanding of these people if only they had been left undisturbed. What was found was of interest nonetheless. The Saxon grave was devoid of its contents. Most of the fragments that remained indicated that the grave robbing operation was very badly implemented from the onset and without due care and attention or respect for the incumbent who was now missing. The most important finds in mound 2 were small shield adornments made of gilt and silver gilt remains that were used to decorate the drinking horns used at the time. A blue glass jar and a couple of blades made from iron and other small items that would have been used to decorate other biodegradable material that had since rotted to nothing.
Basil brown must have been getting exhausted by his labours at this point. Undaunted, he set to work on mound 4. this was the smallest mound excavated so far and measured 20 metres wide by about 1 metre or so high. It was getting late in the year to consider the prospect of barrow 1 He decided to conclude with this mound. Heavily pock-marked with rabbit burrows, he used the same technique as the other two. This was the most disappointing of the three he had excavated. Again, he found cremated bone and some material of superior quality that indicated that the incumbent may have been of high standing. Other fragments found were of bronze. Further studies of the bones show that they were of a young adult and those of a horse. When a high ranking Saxon dies, it appears that so does everything else he owns.
No more excavations were carried out that year. The clouds of war were inextricably heading England’s way. The largest mound was yet to be attempted. Barrow 1 would have to wait.
Basil Browns work that year was important for our understanding of the burial culture of high status Saxons. He must have been mortified by the ransacking of all three mounds. It would have been easy to understand his interest waning after the work he had put in to see the vandalism inflicted on these graves’ hundreds of years ago.
Even though many of the contents were missing, the fragments that remained helped us understand those times a little better. The impending war clouds, soon to descend in 1939, left doubts as to when barrow 1 would be attempted.
As the months of 1939 passed and the nights became progressively longer, the warmth of the summer sun began to assert itself. War had not yet been declared so Basil Brown met with Edith Pretty and discussed the way forward. It was important that any work needed to be completed quickly and that she was prepared to sponsor another dig. They decided to attempt barrow 1.
This was the biggest of the mounds. As you recall, Brown preferred to dig seemingly undisturbed mounds. He persuaded Mrs Pretty the previous year that the likelihood of finding anything in mound 1 would be negligible by the post barrow disturbance that seemed evident. The irony was that she wanted to start here the previous year. Little did they know of the consequences of what they were about to uncover. By today’s standards of archaeological digging, the way this barrow was excavated would make a present day archaeologist quake in his shoes. However, we have the methodical approach of Basil Brown and his helpers to thank for the way this monumental uncovering progressed. It would be very easy to condemn the technique used as basic to say the least. What we must be grateful for was Brown’s knowledge of the area. Without his expertise of the sandy soil of this district, it would have been very easy to damage what would become the premier find of Saxon burial custom this century. What follows is the uncovering of a large Saxon ship and associated burial artefacts.
Basil Brown must have learnt a considerable amount the previous year and decided to attack the problem the same way. Beginning on the west side, and digging east, Brown, along with Jacobs and Spooner, dug a ground level exploratory trench 2 metres wide towards the centre of the barrow. The amount of sandy soil that had to be removed must have been considerable. After a couple of days of digging and clearing away the soil, Basil came across definite signs of soil disturbance. He must have realised that there was a possibility of something unusual hidden below the surface level of this mound. He must also have thought that grave robbers could also have been there before him. Undaunted, the trio continued their work. An iron rivet was discovered which indicated that there may be a Saxon ship buried beneath this mound. Encouraged by this find, he continued towards the centre. After only a couple of hours, Basil Brown made what was to be a significant find.
As more soil was carefully removed the shape of a Saxon ship started to form. It was now that Brown’s experience saved what could have been misunderstood by those not conversant with the effect of sandy acid soils on biodegradable material such as those encountered at Sutton Hoo. He immediately realised that he was uncovering the bow or stern of a vessel. He had no way of knowing which end at this stage. What he quickly realised was that none of the wood it had been originally constructed of had survived the centuries. What had survived were the rivets that were still in their original positions. Brown formulated a plan to protect what he was about to slowly uncover. The rusting or oxidation of the rivets had leeched into the wood after the burial and this in turn had discoloured the sand. He calculated that if he followed the line of the rivets, he could uncover the full grandeur of the ship. His first problem was how to protect what he was about to expose. He hit upon the idea of covering the rivets with a thin covering of the soil to protect them from the elements whilst he ruffed out the rest of the vessel. His two helpers were now kept away from the fragile impression of the ship and brown worked alone inside the carcass. He instructed Spooner and Jacobs to widen the access trench. Using the discoloration from the rivets as the indicator for the general shape of the ship, he continued carefully towards the centre. The dimensions of the ship must have staggered Brown. He knew of the ship burials as related in the Viking section but this one appeared much larger. Setbacks were a plenty due to land slips. It became necessary to plank up the sides to avoid brown being buried by his own excavation, to which he so nearly succumbed at one stage. The irony would be beyond belief if he had become a casualty in a burial mound.
Basil began the excavation in May 1939 and slowly uncovered a Saxon ship of epic proportions. Leaving a covering of sand over the Turin Shroud like image for protection he continued his work. As he approached the middle of the Barrow, he came upon the first sign of later excavation. Fortunately the pit that was sunk down from the top of the mound had not reached the ship. The filled hole was about 3 metres deep as measured from the top of the barrow. Happily, Brown calculated that it had just not reached the ship or its contents.
It is interesting to postulate who had tried to rob this barrow. At the bottom of the hole was discoloured sand. This was attributed to a fire that was lit by the robbers. What dated the later excavation was the discovery of a jar that could be accurately dated to the time of Elizabeth I. This in itself was quite interesting as to who may have been responsible for the incursion. It was known that treasure hunters were encouraged during this period to pay for various exploits and it is not unlikely that this pit was dug with the blessing of the state. There is no evidence to prove this fact however.
Basil Brown must have been quite excited at the prospect that the attempt to remove the contents of the mound had failed. He realised that finding the undisturbed contents were now a real possibility. The summer months moved on and more of the ship was slowly being uncovered by Brown’s meticulous approach. War would soon darken England’s shores and it became a race against time.
It is amazing that little interest seemed to be shown by the academic world when the first part of the ship was uncovered. You would have thought that when this important find saw daylight the whole project would have been put on an official level.
Why did it take 4 months before anybody apart from Mrs Pretty and Basil Brown to realise that this was a find of national and even world importance is open to question?
Was there some conspiracy of silence to stop the project being taken over?
It is easy to understand that when you have worked on something for a long time, it can be very frustrating when your endeavours become those of others. By June of 1939, much of the ship’s outline had been excavated. If Basil brown had wanted to keep this to himself, he was soon going to have the project removed from his charge. If you remember – Guy Maynard, the curator of Ipswich museum and who referred Brown to Mrs Pretty in the first place instigated the dig being placed on a more academic level. It was sad for brown, but it had advanced beyond his capabilities. He had uncovered a large percentage of the ship but what was later to be discovered required expertise that he did not possess.
The Professional Archaeologists
It must have been a sad day for Basil Brown to have the project he had laboured on for all those months taken away from him. Even he must have realised that it was getting beyond him and that to make much further progress would require the assistance of professional archaeologists. Using his contacts, Guy Maynard enlisted the help of Charles Phillips. Phillips, a fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge and involved in the Ordnance Survey who chart and map make the British Isles. He became the recruiter of a powerful team of experts in this area of archaeology. He visited the site and from his observations invited Stuart Piggott, who later became a Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh University. His spouse Peggy was also involved – although I am not sure what her qualifications were in the subject. W.F grimes, the director of Institute of Archaeology in London and of course – Basil Brown, who was retained. The whole project became state run from what is now known as the Department of the Environment. If it was under government control, it was not being financed by them because Mrs Pretty was still footing the bill.
Basil was instructed to continue the hard labour with another helper named Bert Fuller. Basil’s input slowly declined. He was used for the roughing out the remainder of the ship hull but was banned from touching the artefacts that were soon to be uncovered. This was a job for the professionals. By the 19th of July 1939, the Piggott husband and wife team arrived. The weather turned to rain the first few days and the team had to resort to protection the ship with bits of cloth or anything they could lay their hands on.
This included newspaper, boxes or anything that could be used to protect the hull from the elements. You cannot imagine this happening today with something of such national and historical importance. The ship fortunately survived the usual vagaries of the English summer.
The Sutton Hoo Saxon Ship
Ship burials were not a new phenomenon in the area because in 1862 a similar mound was excavated at Snape about 15 Km distant. It was a smaller ship and was not in the same state of preservation as the Sutton Hoo discovery. The Snape ship was constructed in the same manner but comprehensively ransacked. Where as the Snape ship was thought to be approximately 15 metres in length, the Sutton Hoo ship when measured, exceeded 27 metres in length and 4.5 metres in width. By all standards, a huge ship.
The only protection the ship cast seemed to be afforded was the thin covering of sandy soil deliberately left over it with the help of sacking and paper. There seemed to be no attempt to build a roof over the site in 1939.
By the process of diffusion and time, the timbers rotted and the by-products of oxidation diffused into the surrounding sand. The effects created a soft fossil like cast that showed the rivet positions. By gently removing the protective top layer of soil and following the lines of rivets, the full glory of the ship became apparent. To avoid crushing the delicate craft, poles were extended across the beam and a swings suspended down from them. This technique allowed the delicate operation to progress with minimum damage.
What was amazing was the fact that the cast was so good that the construction of the vessel was almost self evident. The rivet positions showed the ship to be what is today called clinker built. The planks were overlapped and riveted together. The ends of the plank runs were butted together. The Ship consisted of 26 bulkheads which possibly fitted after the general shaping of the planking was complete. Usual ship construction is to build the frame and plank afterwards. There is evidence to show that the strengthening bulkheads were carved to fit the planks rather than the other way round.
|A view from the top showing the full length of the ship and the position of the rivets and plank runs. This is from the drawing of the casts made at the time.|
The ship as it was being slowly exposed was subject to archaeological and photographic recording. The photographs, I believe, were kept in the Science Museum but were unfortunately destroyed during the Second World War. It was during the dig, two school teachers by the names of Barbara Wagstaff and Mercie Lack were allowed to photograph the site during their summer holidays. We are lucky that they were allowed to do so because their photographic record is all that survives from the initial uncovering.
Moving a ship of this size from the River Deben estuary to the burial site must have taken quite some time and effort. It is estimated that the ship must have been pulled uphill on wooden rollers by teams of men and horses. This would have put extreme strain on the vessel and might explain the repairs by the double riveting. It is unlikely that any damage sustained by the towing process would have been repaired in all reality. The mound or barrow leave a few questions. When you dig a hole and fill it in, you are left with a mound – unless you compress it. The trench dug for the Sutton Hoo ship when filled in would also leave a mound.
The question is whether extra soil was brought in to increase the mound and if so, how high were the original barrows?
This wonderful find of a Saxon ship was in itself so valuable to our understanding of the East Anglian Saxon burial ritual. So many sites had been ransacked in the past that very little had survived of any significance. Not only was there a ship but a burial chamber that had escaped the vandalism. The chamber contained riches of extraordinary beauty and artefacts of everyday life. It could only be that of a king.
Construction Of The Burial Chamber
As stated on a number of occasions. What the archaeologists were looking at was a cast. All the wood that made up the ship and the burial chamber had decayed to nothing. The burial chamber has always been the subject of argument and will be discussed here. Basil brown was not allowed to touch or remove contents. the specialists who joined the dig were responsible for this.
Certain items when found were subject to damage. This would not have happened if the contents had been laid flat and the soil back-filled over them. This leads us to the conclusion that there may have been a roof of some description or cabin that contained the body and his possessions. This conclusion was made because of the damage sustained when the roof may have collapsed after burial when the timber rotted. The actual shape of the chamber has been hard to define. It is thought it could have been just a traditional timber V shape roof with no sides that were nailed or pegged to the gunwales or lower bulkheads. It may have been a structure similar to that mentioned first off or a simple plank or boarding that rested on the bulkheads at the bottom of the ship. What we do know is that it stretched from bulkhead 10 to 16. Here was found the personal belongings of somebody very important.
Items Recovered at Sutton Hoo
The lifting of the artefacts began in the summer of 1939. Between bulkheads 10 and 16 there laid the riches of a ruler or king of some eminence. The similarities to ancient Egyptian burials such as the Pharaohs cannot go without comparison. If not quite so lavish as those mummified within the pyramids, the concept of a pagan burial indicated their belief in the afterlife and the preparation that had to be made for the transition.
Despite his high position in East Anglian life, he would still need those items which were required to exist in the mortal world. Many of the items recovered were everyday items that would make his life more comfortable on the other side.
Below is a list of most of the items recovered
Spear ferrules. .
Bronze hanging bowl. .
Iron stand. .
Helmet fragments. .
Shield centre piece. .
Stone sceptre. .
Iron rings of two buckets. .
Two silver bowls. .
Gold buckle. .
Various clasps. .
Sword remains. .
Selection of spear heads. .
Drinking horn adornments. .
Iron axe. .
Pottery bottle. .
Iron lamp. .
Silver dish. .
Various silver plates. .
Segments of a mail coat. .
Three cauldrons. .
Cauldron suspension Ironwork. .
Two Silver spoons.
The Second World War
|It can be safely said that the Second World War slowed down the research at the Sutton Hoo site. Many of the records and photographs were destroyed in the London Science Museum during this time. As mentioned above – this area of East Anglia is the flattest part of England and as such was thought to be vulnerable to German glider attacks. To avoid this, areas such as this had what is known as glider ditches constructed. These ditches were thought to be a deterrent. Two glider ditches were excavated right through the Sutton Hoo site in a SE – NW direction. What made things worse was that the excavated mounds were used for mortar practice. Nowadays it seems beyond belief that this could happen. I suppose the old phrase that there was a war on held the upper hand. Even today, East Anglia is home to a number of military bases such as Lakenheath and Mildenhall which strangely enough – are now used by the United States Air force.|
If nothing else, the eight years between the uncovering of the Treasure and the Archaeologists return gave time for recollection. Amazingly the site had survived in some form or another to justify continued research. Now it was the turn of Bruce Mitford from the British Museum to take the leading role in the further research of the site. Mitford was probably the most methodical of all the researchers who were involved. He wrote many books on the subject and his work cast doubt on earlier assumptions – that even today we still argue about.
Who was buried At Sutton Hoo? Where is the body?
Various remains of humans and Animals were found in other mounds on the site but not in mound one. This question of human remains had to wait until 1965. The problem with sandy soils is the acidic nature inherent in them. It goes without saying that any human remains subject to acidic conditions would dissolve in quite a short time. The remains found in other mounds had been cremated and therefore be more resistant to acid attack. The problems facing the scientists were basically how to develop a test to prove the existence of a human body within the ship when there were no remains to work on. There was one test however. This comprised of measuring the level of phosphates within the burial chamber and comparing those with the soil outside. This should give an indication of any biological remains that may have existed within the ship. Obviously much more sensitive tests became available over the years. Using chemicals similar to those that you would use today to test the condition of your garden soil, samples were taken from the burial chamber and compared to those outside. Surprisingly there was a difference. The levels were slightly higher inside than out. The evidence unfortunately was and still is not conclusive to prove the existence of a body. The tests were carried out over a period of two years. The fact that no remains were found came as little surprise to those who understood the chemistry of the area. This phenomenon is not unique. Other Anglo Saxon sites have mystified us also.
Another scenario is that there never was a body buried with the ship and it was purely a Cenotaph to a king who may have died before it was ready. This seems very unlikely. We know that the most likely candidate that this burial site contained was converted to Christianity at one stage. Could his newly found faith deter him from being buried in pagan fashion? Was he removed from the grave?
Taking into account all the evidence, it seems as though a body or at least biodegradable material did exist within the burial chamber. Assuming a body was buried with the ship, we must now address the problem of who it may have been and what evidence we have to support it. More about this below.
The land of the East Angles, around the time of the Sutton Hoo burial was thought to have taken place was indeed a mysterious place. Of the three races generically known as Saxons, we know less about these people than we do about the others. The identity of the possible incumbent can only be ascertained if we have an accurate dating of the burial site. A number of tests were carried out to date the ship and its contents.
The Anastasius dish for example could not be used because this was at least a couple of hundred years older than the ship was thought to be. The silly thing was the fact that many of the older pieces of Mediterranean silverware could be accurately dated.
|Found in the burial chamber were a collection of coins. These were recognized as coming from Gaul. The only problem was to date them. The complication arose by not knowing how new or old the coins were before being buried with the incumbent. The coins known as Merovingian tremises were a complication in themselves. This French currency – as time went on – were minted with reduced amounts of gold in them. To accurately date them became a task that required physics rather than archaeological skills. The dates of the debasing of the coins had been known for some time. It was decided to work out an average of a few hundred tremises and compare them with those found at Sutton Hoo. |
Like the Anastasius dish, It could indicate everything or nothing. Assuming that the coins were a gift to the man buried here and were reasonably new, it would confirm the possible candidates. The coins were weighed and an average taken. As the coins gold content was gradually reduced during the sixth and seventh centuries, a figure of around 625 A.D was calculated.
Rædwald of East Anglia
The finery of the gold buckle and sword indicates that the king had material wealth and the diversity of the objects buried with him infer that he was well known in other countries. This would require a reign of a number of years. The ship itself was very large and must surely have been commensurate with the status of the incumbent.
The dating of the coins also tie up pretty closely with the assumed death of Raedwald. Even to this day, we must keep an open mind as to who was buried at Sutton Hoo.
Q1 : Was there ever a body buried At Sutton Hoo?
No signs of a body were ever found in the burial chamber. Does this mean that there was no body? The peculiar acidic nature of sandy soil has the ability to eat or corrode bone in a short time. The absence of a body therefore may not be considered unusual. The chemical tests for residual phosphates did indicate a raised level. This could be for a number of reasons. Bio-degradable material such as cloth were found in the chamber and may have been responsible. Saxon burials usually contained the personal belongings of the interned. This could include his horse or any pets he may have had. The raised phosphate level does not mean that a human being was ever buried here.
Q2: Did religion have a bearing?
is it possible that there was never a body buried at Sutton Hoo? Surely the East Angle Saxons would not go through the prodigious task of burying a ship the size of this for no reason? If we assume that the intended was Raedwald, what possible reason could there have been for him not to be interned within the burial chamber when he died. The most obvious to my mind is that of religion. We know that at one stage he visited Kent and was thought to have been converted to Christianity by Aethelbert and his Frankish wife named Bertha.
Aethelbert died in 616 AD which would have left a decade for him to renounce his newly acquired faith and return to paganism. It would be unacceptable for somebody as eminent as Raedwald to be buried in such a style if he had remained Christian. Is there another answer to this riddle? Is it possible that Raedwald never renounced Christianity but allowed the Sutton Hoo ship to be buried to ensure the continuity of his peoples customs and religion, even though he had been converted? Was Raedwald buried in a more austere unknown Christian grave ? These are questions that will never be answered.
When we find historically important artefacts like those recovered at Sutton Hoo – we try to compare and contrast the items with those already discovered and dated in the past. The treasure of this burial and the burial itself could be considered unique in many respects. The size of the ship came as a surprise. It was much larger than the one uncovered at Snape but had a similar design.
When we try to compare this burial with other ship burials around Europe, we always seem to end up in a small area of Sweden. North of Stockholm there were ship burials which bear similarities with that of Sutton Hoo. The Valsgarde and Vendel ship burials bear all the hall marks and similarities to Sutton Hoo. The implications of this are great. If you have read about the origin of the three Saxon races, you will appreciate that a problem exists in actually calling these people Saxons at all. Are we really discussing a small influx of settlers that populated parts of East Anglia but were never Saxon? Could these people have been the precursor of the arrival of the Vikings? Is it also probable that we are dealing with a person unknown and that this burial was never meant for Raedwald at all? The similarities between Swedish and the Sutton Hoo ship is not enough to confirm this speculation. What other proof is there.
Take the helmet remnants. A similar style was discovered in Valsgarde. The complications continue because many of the items seem to have no parallels anywhere else. The whetstone or sceptre as it has been called is unique and has no equal. The Iron axe with its iron handle is again without equal. The Sutton Hoo haul was very cosmopolitan in content and indicates a well travelled man or one who was respected and afforded gifts from many far away places. The complications are endless.
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