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SUTTON HOO - My Buried History

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« on: January 13, 2008, 07:27:38 am »

The Sutton Hoo Boat was ‘Britain’s Tutankhamun’,
the most significant archaeological site ever
discovered in this country

                                                         My buried history


When John Preston discovered his aunt had helped unearth Anglo-Saxon gold at Sutton Hoo, he decided to dig further. He uncovered a story of intrigue and heartbreak that provided perfect material for his new novel

Journalists tend to have an ambivalent attitude to letters from readers. On the one hand it can be gratifying to have provoked a reaction. On the other, there’s always the possibility that the correspondent may be mildly – or not so mildly – unhinged.

Nearly three years ago, when I received a letter from a woman claiming to be my long-lost second cousin, I had no hesitation in sticking her in the latter category. Very guardedly, I wrote back asking her why she thought we might be related.

Back came another letter listing various names and dates. As I looked at them, her claim began to look worryingly plausible. At the end of her letter she suggested we meet. ‘But don’t leave it too long,’ she added. ‘I’m 83.’

A few weeks later we had what proved to be an extremely enjoyable lunch together. As I was about to go, my newly found cousin said – almost in passing – ‘I assume you know that your late aunt found the gold at Sutton Hoo.’

I didn’t, but then I didn’t know my aunt at all well. I knew that she’d been an archaeologist, and that she had written a two volume study of Roman beads. That, though, was about it. I didn’t know much about Sutton Hoo either, except that it was in Suffolk. I also had some dim recollection that a boat had once been found there, buried in a mound.

Back at home I began to do a little research. It turned out that my aunt had indeed found the gold at Sutton Hoo in the summer of 1939. This, however, was only a small part of what turned out to be a remarkable story of intrigue, ambition, heartache and, of course, buried treasure. At the time it had been hailed as ‘Britain’s Tutankhamun’, the most significant archaeological site ever discovered in this country.

Not only that, the Sutton Hoo treasure had been discovered just as Britain – and the world – stood on the brink of war. As my aunt said later, ‘It was extraordinary to be uncovering the remains of this lost civilisation at a time when our own seemed about to be blown to smithereens.’

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a seed began to take root. Here, surely, was a terrific subject for a novel – one that would try to recreate the excitement of the dig while examining the relationships between the people concerned.

Over the next few days, I started reading everything I could about the 1939 excavation. A trip to the London Library revealed that several of the main players had left diaries and there were also exhaustive analyses of the discoveries.

The next week I went up to Sutton Hoo. On a bank above the Deben estuary stood a group of burial mounds. At first glance, they looked disappointingly like bunkers on a golf course. And yet it was here, beneath the largest of the mounds, that the treasure had been found. Two or three hundred yards away is a large white Edwardian house with views out over the water and, on the opposite bank, the town of Woodbridge.

In 1939, the house was occupied by a 56-year-old widow called Edith Pretty and her nine-year-old son, Robert. Mrs Pretty, it soon became apparent, was a woman of considerable abilities. A keen traveller, she had visited the Pyramids in her youth and she later became one of the first women magistrates.

She had also given birth to her only child at the then almost unheard-of age of 47. Four years later, her husband died, leaving her and Robert alone in the 15-bedroom mansion.

Edith Pretty was a keen spiritualist and made regular trips to London to see a medium. There, it’s thought, she tried to make contact with her dead husband. It also seems likely that her interest in spiritualism had some bearing on her decision to start excavating the mounds in the summer of 1938. According to some accounts, ghostly figures had been seen there, along with a man on a white horse.

When she approached Ipswich Museum for advice, they recommended a local archaeologist called Basil Brown. Socially, at least, Basil Brown was Edith Pretty’s polar opposite. He’d left school at 12 to become a farm labourer, and had later worked as a milkman and a wood-cutter.

His great interest, however, was archaeology. He read voraciously, taught himself four languages and proved to have a remarkable flair for sniffing out antiquities. A colleague wrote of him later: ‘His method was to locate a feature and then pursue it wherever it led, in doing so becoming just like a terrier after a rat.’
« Last Edit: January 18, 2009, 11:06:20 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2008, 07:36:38 am »

In June 1938, Basil Brown started work at Sutton Hoo, assisted by a gamekeeper and a gardener from the estate. Over the next two months they excavated three of the mounds. All, it transpired, had been robbed – probably at some point during the 16th or 17th centuries. They did, however, find a gilt bronze disc that suggested the mounds were much older than had first been thought: Anglo-Saxon rather than Viking.

Next May, Brown was back again, this time excavating the largest of the mounds. He started off, as he’d done before, by driving a four-foot wide trench into the middle of the mound. At around midday on 11 May, one of the men gave a shout: ‘Here’s a bit of iron!’ Immediately, Brown ordered work to be halted and began scraping about with his trowel.

Soon he found five more pieces of rusted iron beneath pinky-coloured discolourations in the soil. Brown deduced – rightly as it turned out – that these pieces of metal were rivets and that what they had uncovered was the remains of a boat.

The actual wood had decayed long ago, but what remained was a thin crust, rather like a photographic negative imprinted on the sandy soil. When they uncovered more rivets, the outline of the planks could clearly be seen, stretching off into the depths of the mound.

Brown moved into nearby lodgings and for the next month the three men kept digging. As they did so, the ship got bigger and bigger. Previously, the largest ever buried ship had been found in Norway. That had been around 70ft long.

The Sutton Hoo ship, it became clear, was much larger. It was, Brown acknowledged to his wife in one of his daily letters to her, the find of a lifetime. And that wasn’t all. As far as he could tell, the mound had never been robbed. If that was the case, it was possible that there was still an intact treasure chamber in the middle of the ship.

But unbeknown to him, trouble was stirring. Word had got out about the discovery. In Cambridge, the formidably bluff and bellicose Charles Phillips, Fellow of Selwyn College and an expert in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, was especially intrigued. On 6 June, Phillips paid his first visit to Sutton Hoo.

What he saw left him stunned.‘I was not prepared for the astonishing sight which met me,’ he wrote later. ‘At a quick estimate the boat could hardly be much less than one hundred feet long.’

It now seems clear that Phillips began lobbying to have Basil Brown removed so that he could take charge of the dig himself. Plainly ego played a big part in this, although there were other factors – the imminence of war, in particular.

Phillips felt – with some justification – that a discovery of this importance could not be left to two estate workers and a man with no formal training in archaeology. If there was to be a war, it was imperative that the excavation be finished and any finds taken away for safe keeping before hostilities commenced.

A number of meetings were held between representatives of the British Museum, Ipswich Museum and the Ministry of Works to try to work out what should happen next. They did not go at all well. Afterwards, the president of Ipswich Museum referred to Charles Phillips as ‘overriding, bumptious and tactless – a typical product of modern Cambridge’.

In June, the British Museum told Basil Brown to stop excavating. However, he took no notice and carried on. Soon he found what he believed to be the remains of a roof that had once sat on top of the treasure chamber.

Then, on the evening of 14 June, he uncovered a large iron ring. Using a soft brush, he cleared away more of the sandy soil, finding some green-coloured bronze objects and a piece of extremely decayed wood.

He had discovered what appeared to be the remains of a cauldron. When he tapped the piece of wood with his finger, it gave out a hollow sound. ‘This may only contain bones, but I shall see very soon now,’ he wrote to his wife.

But before he could go any further, the British Museum announced that Charles Phillips would be taking charge of the excavation. Basil Brown’s dream of exploring the treasure chamber was dashed just as he was on the brink of fulfilling it. Subsequently, he was relegated to carting away earth in a wheelbarrow and he seldom set foot inside the ship again.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2008, 06:21:14 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2008, 07:39:08 am »

Although Phillips was now in charge, he was unable to do any of the digging himself. Basically, he was too fat. As the ship was extremely delicate, there were fears that he might damage the thin crust of sand.

Clearly, more help was required and Phillips recruited two archaeologist friends, Stuart Piggott and his young wife Peggy – my aunt – to come and lend a hand. On 21 July, just two days after she had arrived at Sutton Hoo, Peggy Piggott was working away in the centre of the ship when she uncovered a small pyramid-shaped object, intricately fashioned out of gold and garnets.

Later that afternoon she found another one. ‘Of course, from that moment we were immensely excited,’ she recalled when she was interviewed for a BBC documentary in the 1960s.

This, however, was only the start. The next day they found an array of treasure: beautiful gold plaques patterned with birds and animals, gold coins and an enormous gold buckle. That evening, when the excavation team returned to their hotel in Woodbridge, a man came up to Stuart Piggott in the bar and asked him how he was getting on: ‘Well, old boy, found any gold today?’

Piggott replied, quite truthfully, ‘As a matter of fact, my pockets are absolutely crammed with it.’

‘Splendid,’ said the man.‘You’d better have a drink.’

‘Thanks,’ said Piggott.‘I think I need one.’

Piggott wasn’t the only one to be left reeling. When the Keeper of Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum was shown one of the gold buckles in the waiting room at Woodbridge Station, the shock was so great that he nearly keeled over.

Over the next 15 days, Phillips’s team found 263 objects, including more gold jewellery, a sceptre, the remains of a shield and a helmet, along with a great silver dish bearing the stamps of the Emperor Anastasius (491-518).

Everyone present agreed that the jewellery dated from the early 7th century – the middle of the Dark Ages, when it had been thought that people had slid back into a hopeless primitivism.

However, the discoveries left that theory in tatters. The quality of the jewellery alone revealed that these people had been extremely sophisticated, while the stamps on the silver dish proved that their trading routes stretched as far as Constantinople.

What the archaeologists had failed to find, though, was a body – or any evidence of one. If this was a grave, then it evidently belonged to someone important.

But who? The most popular candidate was Raedwald, who had been King of East Anglia from about 599 to his death in about 625. What then had happened to his body? This was less clear, though the most likely theory was that the high acidity in the soil had destroyed any sign of it.

There was also the big question of whom the treasure belonged to.

On 14 August, 1939, a Treasure Trove inquest was held at Sutton Parish Hall; public interest was now so great that it was broadcast by the BBC Home Service. Having heard the evidence, the jury retired to deliberate in the Gents lavatory – the only room available – and decided that Mrs Pretty was the rightful owner.

A week or so later, Mrs Pretty decided to give the entire Sutton Hoo finds to the British Museum, thus becoming the largest living donor in the museum’s history.

Invited to become a Dame of the British Empire, she declined. By now the international situation had deteriorated to the point where the museum felt the finds should be placed in as safe a place as possible – they were stored in a disused Tube tunnel between Holborn and the Aldwych.

On 3 September war was declared. In the ensuing panic, the ship was covered with bracken and pieces of sacking. During the war, Sutton Hoo was used as a training ground for Sherman tanks. When a team from the British Museum visited the site in 1965, they found that the mounds were covered in tank tracks and the great ship now appeared ‘twisted in a bed of agony’.

The novel that I’ve written sticks, as far as possible, to what actually happened. By using three different narrators – Edith Pretty, Basil Brown and my aunt – I have tried to imagine how they were affected by the events of those few hectic weeks.

Life, for each of them, would never be the same again. Although the book is not a morality tale, there is, I suppose, a moral in here somewhere – namely, don’t be too hasty in consigning your long-lost cousin to the madhouse. She just might end up doing you a bigger favour than you ever dreamed of.

Inspiration of John Preston's Novel THE DIG
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 07:46:13 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2008, 07:48:17 am »

Edith Pretty

                                               The woman who gave us Sutton Hoo

21 December 2006
MARY Skelcher was like a girl on Christmas morning. She'd been handed a tin trunk full of letters and other personal documents that once belonged to Edith Pretty - the woman who unlocked the treasures of Sutton Hoo. Mary was writing a book on this “gentleman's daughter”, about whom little was known. What secrets lay inside?

She had travelled down to the south-coast home of David Pretty, Edith's grandson, to pick up the collection - and hadn't left his living room before giving in to temptation. Her first peek inside brought instant results.

“One of the first things I saw was a letter that had 10 Downing Street on the front. It was a letter from Winston Churchill's secretary.” It offered Edith Pretty an honour, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her gift to the nation of the treasures found on her estate overlooking Woodbridge.

“That was something we'd heard from the family - that she was offered an honour but turned it down - which is a nice story but, until then, without any firm evidence,” explains Mary. Here, in black and white, was proof.

Mary Skelcher and Chris Durrant 

A second letter made clear Edith's decision to decline - a decision for which sister Elizabeth called her “a goose!”

Sutton Hoo, it's said, marked the first page of English history. As Suffolk fretted about the dawning of a new world war, ornate items of gold and silver were found beneath and earth mound on Edith's estate. The treasures, crafted by people creative and cultured, shed light on the so-called Dark Ages.

It's believed the ship-burial was for Raedwald, the king of East Anglia, who died early in the seventh Century. Most of us have heard of him and the Anglo-Saxons, thanks to the discovery in 1939, but the woman whose money and desire made it happen has a much lower profile.

As Chris Durrant puts it, she was “off the edge of the page”.

A replica of the Sutton Hoo mask 

That's a shame, because the life of Edith Pretty is the stuff of which movies are made, featuring nouveau riche ambition, the glamour of foreign travel, the self-sacrifice of duty, the ghastliness of war, unrequited passion, and - most poignantly - love and lives cut short.

That colour is captured in Edith Pretty - From Socialite to Sutton Hoo. Co-author Chris last year published a biography of Basil Brown, the archaeologist charged to investigate the mounds, but he credits Sutton Hoo visitor services manager Mary Skelcher for the idea of a book on Edith.

“She twisted my arm to become involved,” he smiles, “and I'm very glad I did.”

Mary worked as a tax lawyer before deciding on a change of direction and getting involved with the National Trust, which has owned the Sutton Hoo estate since 1998 and opened the impressive visitors' centre in the spring of 2002.

“When I was volunteering in the exhibition, it's amazing how many of the visitors asked about Edith: what was she like and where she lived,” explains Mary. “We didn't know much about her at all.”

Chris, a retired engineer who lives near Saxmundham and now does some work for the National Trust, confirms: “Without a bit of digging, we didn't even know simple things, like her maiden name.”

Gradually, the jigsaw pieces came together. Edith's husband, Frank, had been in the Suffolk Regiment, so there were military records to explore. Somehow, they found out Edith had been at Roedean, and the school supplied information that added colour: such as details about her sports teams. It was there she acquired her nickname: Dempy.

Help came, too, from Edith's grandchildren; and an article in the EADT brought a response from two former housemaids with rich memories of life at Sutton Hoo House.

Edith May Dempster was born on August 1, 1883. Her father, Robert, was a rich industrialist in northern England whose own father had clawed his way out of poverty to become a factory owner.

Journals tell of extensive family expeditions to Egypt, Greece, Austria; a love of dancing; giggling with teenage friends; spending the first half of 1901 in Paris, to polish her language skills.

Later that year came a world tour with her parents. Christmas Day saw them at the Taj Mahal. After sailing from the Bay of Bengal, she had to endure cockroaches in the ladies' cabin! Edith celebrated her 19th birthday on a train to Salt Lake City.

In 1907 the Dempsters leased the imposing Vale Royal in Cheshire. There were 18 gardeners and so many timepieces that it took a specialist four hours to wind them each week. However, Edith wasn't frivolous. She carried out public and charitable work, including buying land for a mission hall.

Life changed dramatically with the First World War, when Edith was 31. She became quartermaster of the Red Cross military hospital at Winsford, and then in 1917 served with the Red Cross in France.

During this time she exchanged letters with Frank Pretty. His family ran the William Pretty and Sons corset-making business in Ipswich. The brother of one of her school friends, he had apparently proposed on Edith's 18th birthday and every year afterwards - without success.

Her mother died in 1919 and Edith, the unmarried daughter, devoted the next six years to her father.

Robert Dempster died in 1925, leaving an estate valued at more than £500,000 (£16 million today). It made the two sisters wealthy women.

The following year Edith agreed to marry the devoted Lt Col Frank Pretty, then living in Stone Lodge Lane, Ipswich. They married in Cheshire in the April of 1926 - a high-society affair with 200 invited guests. The bride was 42, her groom 47.

That year she gave up lease on Vale Royal and the couple lived briefly in Ipswich before Edith bought the 526-acre Sutton Hoo estate for £15,250 (about £480,000 in today's money).

There, she entered into local life: sitting as a magistrate in Woodbridge, joining her husband in the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, sending gifts to sick folk in Sutton, and hosting a new year's party for estate staff.

Then, at the age of 46, Edith discovered she was pregnant. Son Robert was born in 1930, but there is a suspicion the pregnancy left its mark on her health - and, in the early summer of 1934, Frank fell ill. It was diagnosed as stomach cancer, but specialists persuaded his wife he shouldn't know the truth. Edith carried that burden; and her own health seemed to ebb and flow in parallel with her husband's.

He died three days after Christmas, on his 56th birthday. The couple had been married less than nine years.

It was quite late in the day - last August, probably - that David Pretty gave the authors the trunk of documents.

“Some of it was incredibly moving, because there are letters from Frank Pretty home during the First World War,” says Mary. Frank was wounded twice; his brother was killed.

Meanwhile, letters written by Edith's sister Elizabeth - a frequent visitor to Sutton Hoo during Frank's illness later on - were illuminating.

“I'd always thought this notion of dying of a broken heart was romantic nonsense; but actually, when you read Elizabeth's letters, Edith's illness matched Frank's. So suddenly it doesn't seem quite as silly,” says Mary. “For me, it made me feel that Edith really loved him.”

For nearly 45 minutes we've been talking in what used to be Frank's office, but we've barely mentioned the treasures . . .

“Almost incidental,” says Chris. “People know her because of that, but the story stands very well without them.”

The earth mounds lay about 500 yards from the house, but it wasn't until 1937 that Edith decided to have them investigated. There are stories about people seeing ghosts near the mounds. Mary and Chris suggest it could simply be that the landowner, now on her own, simply wanted something to occupy her mind.

In May, 1939, Basil Brown's excavation of the largest mound revealed an Anglo-Saxon ship burial “of heroic proportions”. An inquest jury sitting at Sutton Village Hall ruled the treasure was Edith's, and a few days afterwards she decided it should be given to the nation.

Edith Pretty died suddenly in Richmond Hospital on December 17, 1942, of a blood clot on the brain. She was 59. Only two weeks earlier, she'd been sitting as a magistrate in Woodbridge.

Her gross estate was valued at nearly £400,000 - approaching £11 million in today's money. Most passed in trust to son Robert, who went to live with Elizabeth. He went to Eton and then into farming. Robert died in 1988 of cancer, aged 57, leaving children Penny, David and John.

The War Office used Sutton Hoo until 1946. A few years later the estate was sold.

The view of Mary and Chris is that Edith was “extraordinarily generous and strong-minded, yet self-effacing”. She was, too, a game soul.

There's also, for Chris, a certain sadness. Edith was a product of her upbringing and her own ambitions undoubtedly took second place.

As a young Victorian, she was constrained in many ways. “We see that 'picture' in her diaries of a happy-go-lucky schoolgirl - the sheer joy of messing about in Paris for six months with her school friend and all that - but her society had her in an iron grip.

“She would have been expected to do the good works. . . Her life was channelled in a way a young woman today could not conceive of; not being allowed to have free choice but being constrained by the views of her parents and her society.”

The sense of duty to her widowed father could have been why she didn't marry earlier. Also, it was likely her parents had harboured ambitions for her to marry into aristocracy, rather than choose the son of a draper from lower down the scale.

Mary unlocks the small private chapel that leads off Frank's office. It used to be carpeted in blue, and have a crucifix and candles in the window - somewhere the widowed Edith could “talk” to her husband.

You can breathe the history - and feel a film scripting forming. All the elements are here: the emotion of a period story, the original set, and wonderful light and views.

Chris smiles. “Another role for Helen Mirren . . .”

Edith Pretty: From Socialite to Sutton Hoo costs £8.99. ISBN 978-0-9554725-0-3

ONE of the legends attached to Edith Pretty is her involvement with spiritualism.

It seems to have started when her sister came to Suffolk. Frank was ill and Elizabeth suggested faith healing might help. London-based William Parish worked from a distance, as it were, and both Frank and Edith did seem to perk up for a while.

Mary Skelcher says there was always a Christian basis to Edith's involvement.

She formed a strong friendship with William Parish and his wife, giving the financial backing that allowed him to set up a healing house in East Sheen.

There's also a tale that Edith, helped by Parish, held a seance at which an apparition appeared of a man on a black horse and told her to plunge a sword into the mounds. This is pooh-poohed by Sheila Norman, whose father ran the spiritualist church in Woodbridge that Edith supported financially but which she didn't attend. Sheila Norman also doesn't believe that seances took place at Sutton Hoo House, say the authors.

AN exhibition complementing the book is running at the Sutton Hoo visitors' centre until the spring. The centrepiece is the restored portrait of a 56-year-old Edith Pretty that was painted around the time of the excavations by Dutch artist Cor Visser.

It was donated to the National Trust this year by David Pretty, her grandson, after it had been stored in a garage for about 30 years.

The two authors travelled to the Bournemouth area to collect the painting. They dare not leave it in the car, so it rested overnight in Mary's room at the Express by Holiday Inn.

“I hope Edith saw the funny side,” says Chris Durrant. “In the same way that the Sutton Hoo treasures allegedly spent their first night under Edith's bed, her portrait spent a night in Mary's hotel bedroom.”
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 07:56:43 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2008, 07:59:00 am »

SUTTON HOO - Edith Pretty Home
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« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2008, 08:05:21 am »


At Sutton Hoo, across the river from Woodbridge, Mrs. Pretty decided that the mounds on her property should now be excavated, and asked Guy Maynard at Ipswich Museum to make arrangements. Maynard decided to supervise the work himself, and to transfer Basil Brown from the Roman Villa at Stanton Chair to Sutton Hoo.

Mrs Pretty would supply labourers, and would herself employ Basil Brown at his usual rate at the time of £1 12s 6d a week.

So, Basil Brown was employed for the dig and arrived on June 20th at Sutton Hoo.

Basil suggested to Mrs Pretty that it would be better to start with a smaller mound in order to get experience of the conditions, and the best way to proceed. In August, work had to cease as Mrs Pretty was going away.

In 1938, three mounds were excavated, enough to prove that this was a high status burial ground of the 7th century. He found evidence of a boat burial, but the graves had been ransacked in the long distant past. Further work was planned for the following year, and Basil returned to the Stanton Chair Roman Villa on August 10th. 


In February, there was widespread floods in Bury. The markets were also reorganised in the same month within the town.

A large and attractive drinking fountain set outside the Nutshell in the Traverse was judged to impede the traffic and so was removed. It now stands in the Abbey Gardens, used as a planter next to the Bowling Green.

The Plymouth Brethren moved out of town to a new chapel in West Road, Bury.

In March, Germany ignored the terms of the Munich Agreement and occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia.

The site that we now know as Blenheim Camp was built early in 1939 in Out Risbygate, Bury St Edmunds, and was originally known as West Lines. It was built for training the Militia who were called up for a six month spell, but war broke out before the six months were up. West Lines was expanded to give basic training to new recruits throughout the war.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 08:11:44 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2008, 08:12:57 am »

At Sutton Hoo, overlooking the River Deben and the town of Woodbridge, Mrs Pretty owned an estate with a collection of interesting mounds or tumuli. She had asked the Ipswich Museum to oversee their excavation. Basil Brown had been assigned to the task, and would now follow up his work from the previous year.

Basil Brown returned to Sutton Hoo on the 8th of May 1939, and Mrs Pretty asked him to now dig the largest mound, despite obvious signs of past disturbance. By June he had uncovered a ship burial of over 50 feet long, and Guy Maynard of the Ipswich Museum decided that he should seek help and guidance from the British Museum.

It was now agreed that the find was of national importance. By 25th June the government Office of Works had assigned Charles Phillips of Cambridge University to supervise the further excavation. Phillips could not become available until July, and Mrs Pretty was reluctant to wait, and instructed Basil Brown to continue digging.

By June 28th he had found the other end of a ship some 83 feet long and 16 feet at its widest.

On 10th July the work was taken over by the Office of Works, under Charles Phillips, with support from the British Museum.

Basil Brown was now reporting to Phillips, as well as Mrs Pretty, who was in effect his employer on this job. Guy Maynard and the Ipswich Museum would from now on feel increasingly excluded from what they regarded as a Suffolk enterprise.

Phillips also brought in Stuart and Peggy Piggott as excavators on 19th July. By the 21st, the first gold objects were found by Peggy Piggott. The gold buckle, the purse and the 37 gold coins, were found on the 22nd July. Secrecy was now essential to avoid treasure hunters, and the objects were whisked off to the British Museum.

It was now known that the site was Anglo-Saxon, and not Viking, as some had supposed. The great silver dish from the Byzantine Empire was located on 26th July.

On 28th July, the full story was broken by the Daily Herald, so the East Anglian Daily Times had to follow suit the next day, having been holding back at the request of Ipswich Museum. Press now besieged anyone connected to the site. It had become a national sensation.

By 31st July, the last of the treasure had been removed and shipped to the British Museum.

On 14th August, a Treasure Trove Inquest was held in Sutton Village Hall, with a jury of 14 local men. The jury found that the owner was Mrs Pretty, and the objects were not Treasure Trove, as they had not been buried for concealment, with the object of later recovery.

By the end of the month, Mrs Pretty had donated the entire treasure collection to the British Museum, and with war imminent the whole lot was stored in a disused tunnel of the underground, safe from enemy bombs.

By the time war was declared a fabulous hoarde of golden treasure and other royal grave goods had been found, and hidden again. These discoveries would transform the modern view of the Anglo Saxons, their sophistication and international connections.

In 1940 Basil Brown, the excavator of the royal ship at Sutton Hoo excavated two Roman pottery kilns at West Stow and again in 1947 continued there with Stanley West.


The above information is  from excerpts of History of St Edmundsbury.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2009, 11:01:36 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2008, 08:32:44 am »


he section on the Saxons is a brief history of their
influx into Britain following the departure of the Romans after the sacking of Rome in AD 410.

It explains their opportunism at a time when the country became unprotected and very vulnerable. I have possibly given the impression that these people from Saxony in northern Germany were cruel Barbarians who had scant regard for human life and little respect for the people they were to eventually dominate. I may also have given the impression of a race of people totally devoid of culture. Various aspects of the Saxon makeup in those early times may be related in terms of inherent violence. Branding the early Saxon invaders with little cultural heritage would be unfair to them. The misunderstanding arises when you compare what was before AD 410 and what followed. Historians have quoted first Saxon invasions as a slip into the mire. That is what happened in many respects but is not entirely the truth. Britain had a reputation as a trading nation and respected for its laws and organization. The indigenous Celts interbred with Roman stock to the point where the term Romano British could almost sum up the population. Only in times of threat were fresh pure Roman legions dispatched to shore up Britain's defences.


Following the sacking of Rome - the Saxons invaded. Unlike the invasion undertaken by William the Conqueror six hundred years later - This was a slow influx of an inexorable and powerfully violent invader. What we actually know about these times are scant. We rely on ancient documents that can be read a number of ways and the efficacy of the chroniclers sometimes instigates debate. Folklore played a large part in Saxon and British culture and the documents that survive should be analysed closely to extract the underlying meaning and possible truth. Roman organization and laws were like an oasis in the desert of the known world map. It was not surprising that the British suffered both physically and from a certain degree of culture shock after the Saxon arrival.

Longer Than The Romans

What we should not forget is that the Saxon age lasted for six hundred and fifty years. In fact, right up until the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This was longer than the Roman occupation. Many historians consider the Roman occupation as subjugation of the population. Rome tended to have the last word and it was unwise to voice an opinion or rise against her. The Pagan's of Anglesey being a case in point. The lifestyle of the average Briton was proportionate to his status. It is still a matter of modern conjecture as to what age was preferable. Slavery was endemic for those unlucky enough to be born into the lower classes during Roman times. The arrival of the Saxons continued in the form of Saxon, Angle and Jute. These people were basically from the same area but tribally different. They initially kept themselves apart and settled in different areas of the country. The Saxons settled in the south that eventually become known as Wessex. The Angles in East Anglia and the Jutes in Kent. This is covered more fully in the section on the Saxons.

Divide And Conquer

For a race of people to survive for so long required some form of organization. Unfortunately, the people who suffered most were the Celts and Romanised Britons. The Celts and Romano British, forced by hunger and violent suppressions, became displaced to the west of the country, mainly Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Wales. These people were displaced so far in that direction that the Welsh and English Celts and fleeing Romano British became isolated from each other by the Bristol Channel and developed their own separate cultures. It is not my intention to discuss the effects of this exodus in this section. I really want to dispel the idea that there was little good in Saxon culture. If the Saxons were cruel, it can only be countenanced with the thought that these were indeed cruel times. In actual fact, William the Conqueror after Hastings was almost hell bent on genocide in the North of England. Cruelty was not the preserve of Saxons alone. Despite the Saxon treatment of the indigenous population in the early years, I can recount no documentation that comes close to the heinous deeds perpetrated by William the Conqueror. There are many reasons for this - which I hope to expound on in a future section.

Life And Times

If the written word is one way to understand those times. The other comes from the ground. This section is about archaeological evidence that helps us to understand better the times of the early Saxons arrival to these shores. Sadly, the amount of artefacts are few compared to what survives from the Roman occupation. This is the story of one major find that has helped us understand more about those people and hence, respect their culture a little more fully than the history books sometimes pay them. Every culture has its good and bad points. This is about life, death, religion, culture, art and respect for the dead. All those things that we give the Saxon races little credit for.
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« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2008, 08:39:09 am »

his is the story of Sutton Hoo. An archaeological dig that had profound importance for our understanding of 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

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.
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« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2008, 08:52:02 am »

t 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.

Who Can Help Me?

In the first half of 1938, Edith Pretty must have asked the above question to herself a number of times. 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.

Where Shall We Start?

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.

Barrow Three

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.

Barrow Two

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 of iron and other small items that would have been used to decorate other biodegradable material that had since rotted to nothing.

Barrow Four

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 - after four

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. 
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 09:16:30 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2008, 09:18:08 am »

s 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.

The Uncovering

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.

From May Till September

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.

Who would have done this?

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 hunts 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.

A Pounding Heart

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.

Ship? What Ship?

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 Professionals

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.

Thanks Basil - We Will Take Over Now !

Basil was instructed to continue the donkey work 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.
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« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2008, 09:30:20 am »

f you have read this far, you will have learnt how the great Sutton Hoo Saxon ship was found and the main characters involved in its discovery. Not all have been named because they come into their own at a later stage. This section devotes itself to the technical details of the ship and construction. 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. As mentioned earlier, 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.

The Cast

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.



This shows the location of the bulkheads, rivets and rowlocks.


A load of rowlocks

The keel may have been constructed using a central flat piece of timber and the bow and stern carved or bent from other pieces and riveted together. Excavations also show that the bulkheads may have been riveted to the planks with wooden dowels. An interesting discovery was the rowlocks or rowing supports for the oars. These indicated that they were made by cutting a branch with side shoot to form a natural securing point and riveted to the widened strake or toprail to form a continuous set of rowing positions. the survey suggests that this ship was propelled by 40 oarsmen or 20 each side.

Planks and sails

The position of the cast shows that the ship had a 9 plank runs each side and the bow and stern curved steeply upwards as the breakwater. The bow and stern were of similar curved shape but the stern strengthened with 3 closely placed bulkheads which would have been fitted to accommodate the extra stress incurred by the starboard oar like rudder. No or little evidence has remained of the rudder mounting or the rudder itself. It is possible that it was removed before being transported to the burial site. No evidence remains that confirms that this ship had ever been used under sail. No mounting points or blocks were found that would show sail use. another indicator is the continuous run of rowlocks which seem to confirm the above evidence. The shallow draught of this ship, due to its wide beam, would make it a bit of a handful in rough seas. The estimated unloaded waterline would leave about 1 metre of draught. Rowing position is interesting. would the Saxon crew have rowed standing up or sit on sea chests as the Vikings did?. There are some examples of repairs having been made to this ship by the double sets of rivets in various places. Leaks were normally sealed by riveting another piece of wood over the hole.

What Kind of Ship Is This?

The very size of this vessel leaves a few questions about its purpose and where it would have been used. A good indication may be gleaned from the side view of the ship. See how very long it is compared to draught available unloaded. I would doubt it was ever used in open seas although it would be possible in calm weather. If fully loaded, the water would have been lapping the gunwales in any more than a slight swell. Another suggestion that it was a carrier of goods used primarily in the estuaries of East Anglia. The final and least plausible is that it was a royal barge for some eminent East Anglian king. Whatever the use of this ship, it became the subject of a Saxon burial ritual.

Don't Bury A Good One

What makes me think that it was not a royal barge was the repair work that had been carried out on it. If you look at the graphic below that I have prepared from the original drawings taken at the time of discovery, you will see that the ship must have been used for a number of years and subject to an accident or two. If you also view the graphic of the skeleton of the riveting, you get the impression that this vessel was built to last - and in fact had done so. This evidence seems to exclude it being built for one particular person. This leads us to the conclusion that it was a normal working vessel near the end of its life that was chosen to be buried along with a East Anglian king or official of exceeding importance. Who this might have been will be discussed later. Even in those days, there was a limit to what they were prepared to do to honour their dead kings.


Part of the mid section of the ship showing the riveting that indicates that this ship had been repaired. The question is whether the ship was new or just at the end of its life before being buried.
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« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2008, 09:40:03 am »

This large graphic is taken from the original Science Museum drawing from the burial site. The multitude

of rivets can been seen in their original positions and the location of the bulkheads and rowlocks along

the sides. By counting the rowlocks it was estimated that 40 oarsmen were employed to propel this

huge vessel. The bow is at the top and the stern at the bottom of the page.
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« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2008, 09:48:06 am »

he 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.

How Are We Going To Get This Ship Up There?

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?

What we see today is hundreds of years of erosion and levelling.

Some of the mounds are so flat that very little if any extra soil was used to emphasize them. My graphic may give you some idea of what it possibly looked like at the time. It is only my estimate and should only be viewed as such.

Death Of A King?

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.

Noah's Ark

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 Noah's Ark like 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 were found the personal belongings of somebody very important.


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. .

Purse. .

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.

Do it yourself !!!!

As you can see by the above cooking utensils - he would be expected to cater for himself in the afterlife.

Something he may not have had much experience in.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 09:53:59 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2008, 09:55:33 am »

t is impossible for me to comment on all the artefacts found in the Sutton Hoo burial site, or to include graphics of all the items. I am not an expert on Saxon art and would refer you to books or other sources of information that can be found on the net.

This section would not be complete however, if I did not attempt to include some of the more significant finds.

The list above, whilst not being exhaustive, does include most of what was recovered and I have attempted graphically repair certain items that were damaged when the burial chamber roof collapsed. Every graphic you see has been generated electronically from original 2D photographs, drawings and diagrams and given depth and lighting in an attempt to reproduce them in their original condition.

Each legend will explain what the original item was, condition it was found in and any assumptions I have made in the re-generation. I am limited in that many of the drawings and photographs I have had to work in are in black and white.

Many of the original photographs having been destroyed in the London Science Museum during the bombing of the Second World War.

For copyright reasons, I have am not able to include any actual photographs of the site and have not visited Sutton Hoo at the time of writing. I am working on this and hope to include some in the near future. 

Large silver dish 

Known as the Anastasius dish, It is a large dish 72.5 cm wide and constructed of silver and is basically flat with a reasonably large foot ring.

When recovered it was damaged by other items that had bent the foot ring. In particular the silver ladle and possibly the silver bowl. It was also bent on the rim and straightened later by the unbelievable procedure of blowtorch and hammer.

The platter consists of concentric engraved or stamped rings of which the inner one contains an eight sided star with the impression of winged bird of some creation. Towards the rim is another concentric circle about 25 cm in diameter and 2 cm wide. Within this ring are designs of Byzantine nature which are difficult to discern. Within this ring are four circles that seem to have been added as an afterthought because they are of dubious circularity and do not seem to be 90 degrees equidistant.

These roundels contain engravings of seated humans and standing figures. The rim is decorated in the same manner and I discern about 8 roundels which again, seem to leave something to be desired as far as geometry is concerned. Looking at this dish, you perceive the impression that the maker could have done better.

On the underside of the foot ring is two stamps that indicate that this dish was made during the reign of Emperor Anastasius. 

Anastasius dish. I have taken a few liberties with this graphic.

Due to the dish being quite badly damaged and because I only have a black and white photograph - I have enhanced the rings and the star in the centre. I am unable to reproduce the design on the plate due to erosion and wear.

This is the general shape it would have been when made.

My attempt also looks as though it is solid at the rim but is in fact hammered and turned over silver plate. The reflection below shows the foot ring. 

Who was Anastasius anyway? ( A mini history lesson. ) 

Zeno was the Emperor of Rome from AD 474 to 491.

His real name was Tarasicodissa and originated from Isauria.

A military man, he was unpopular for a number of reasons. Partly because of his associations with the Vandals who were involved in the earlier sacking of Rome and his fiscal policies that lead to a number of uprisings which he managed to quash.

In 475, an uprising by Leo's wife who was named Verina and her brother Basiliscus, Zeno fled back to his homeland. Basiliscus sent another Isaurian by the name of Illus to capture him. Unfortunately for Basiliscus, Illus's siege failed and circumstances led to Zeno and Illus making a pact to regain power which was accomplished in August 476.

By 478, Verina who was still upset at the betrayal perpetrated on her son by Illus, plotted his assassination. This failed and resulted in her imprisonment in Isauria. Verina by 479 was still plotting the death of Illus. This time she encouraged her son-in-law Marcian to oblige.

Again, Illus put down the revolt.

Zeno realised that Illus should be moved to Antioch for his own safety with a less controversial post. In 482, Zeno made comments that led to Pope Felix III excommunicating Acacius the Patriarch of Constantinople. For reasons unknown, Zeno's brother was arrested and held hostage by Illus. When Zeno requested his release, Illus refused and was dismissed. Illus revolted in 484 and was a kinsman by the name of Leontius against him. Illus was not captured but made a pact with Leontius which led to Verina supporting Leontius. Leontius and Illus were eventually captured and executed in 488.

Zeno suffered many uprisings but managed to survive until his death in 491.

Anastasius was born in Dyrrachium which is better known today as Albania.

Anastasius was a minor court official of Zeno but was in the right place at the right time on Zeno's death.

Anastasius followed a religious life and became Bishop of Antioch in 488.

The power vacuum and his familiarity with Ariadne - Zeno's wife - led to him being put forward as the new Emperor. On the 11th April 491 he became so. Five weeks later he married her. One thing Anastasius realised was that there were too many bitter Isaurians who thought they had a better clam to his position than he did. To counter the threat, he removed all Isaurian officials which in turn lead to constant revolt. It took about 7 years to counter the threat. Raids by the Bulgars across the Danube instigated the building of walls and in 492 he was at war with Persia. Anastasius is probably best known for his modification to the coinage system and minting of a wide range of bronze coins .

He is also known for his complex tax system which on his death in 518 left the economy in a strong position. 

Who owns what? 

In the United Kingdom there is a legal mechanism that comes into force when the ownership of gold, silver or basically anything of value is recovered from under the ground or within United Kingdom waters. It is known as TREASURE TROVE. Treasure trove can be defined thus. If a person or persons hide, i.e. bury treasure or anything that can be construed as treasure and it is subsequently recovered by a person or persons who are not the legal owners, the find is declared as treasure trove. If it is declared such, it becomes the property of the state. If on the other hand, the treasure was not intended to ever be recovered, the situation becomes complicated. Many individual artefacts found by metal detecting that has become a popular pastime today could not be declared treasure trove because they were possibly lost originally and hence were not likely to ever be recovered by their owners. Another factor is where they were found. If the articles were found on private land by an individual who was not given permission to search there, the ownership would fall to the landowner if not subject to treasure trove. 

Treasure trove or what? 

The Sutton Hoo treasure opens a completely new can of worms as far as treasure trove is concerned. No legal remedies seem to be in place even today for who the legal owner would be when articles are found with no intention of recovery. Sutton Hoo was such a case. Taking into account the enormous importance of the find, the initial thought would be that the state would declare it treasure trove and impound the contents. On the other hand it falls outside the true definition of treasure trove. So it was on the 14th August 1939 a coroner's court was convened to dispute the legal ownership of the treasure. In true English tradition, a court with 14 jurors was set up in the local Sutton village hall to decide who owned the find. It was decided that the artefacts were not treasure trove and hence were awarded to Mrs Pretty. As you can imagine, this was not welcomed by the academic world who saw these historically important items being lost to the nation in front of their eyes. Fortunately, Mrs Pretty who eventually died in 1952, donated them to the state. If she had not, it was almost certain that the coroner's court decision would have been contested. What leg the state would have stood on is open to question. It has been usual practice for burial mound excavations to proceed only with the blessing of the state since the 14th century. 

Iron Axe 

The iron axe is an unusual find because it has a metal handle. It tapers from oblong at the head end to square in the middle and round at the base. The similarity to those Danish battleaxes used by Harold at the Battle of Hastings cannot pass without thought. The head whilst being narrower than later varieties had a blunt hammer rear whilst the chopping side had a narrow curvature with a cutting surface of about 5-6cm. What is unusual and quite baffling is evidence of a swivel ring on the bottom of the handle. To have this bolted to your person would have made it impossible to walk. It is thought that it may have been used for mounted warfare. We simply do not know. 

Silver cup 

A plain silver cup was found that was bent due to the pressure of the burial roof collapse. It and the ladle were responsible for the footing damage and vice versa of the Anastasius dish. 

The graphically repaired silver cup that was damaged on the Anastasius dish. 


The sword 

If the many items recovered that indicate this to be the burial of a high ranking official, the remains of the sword indicate the fact to perfection.

To the fighting man, the quality of his sword said more about him and his wealth than anything else.

The complex construction of this sword shows how high the status of this man must have been. In those days it was impossible with the technology available to create a quality sword out of a single piece of metal.

The Sutton Hoo sword was constructed using the process known as pattern welding. Pattern welding is undertaken by using thin strips of iron and twisting them together whilst red hot and hammering them into the correct shape. This left the characteristic shape of a zig zag or herringbone feature that indicated quality.

This sword was no exception.

Analysis showed that it consisted of 7 thin rods platted together to form the basic design and combined with another 4 bundles of 7 rods to produce the basic shape of the sword. It was here that the makers art and design could shine through. To the handle end was attached by heat and hammering 2 tongues that were for attaching the handle. After the basic shape was formed by heating and beating the cutting edges were applied. Steel making is a complex subject and it is interesting to wonder how much the maker knew about the process. The quality and strength and brittleness of steel is determined by the amount of carbon within it. The more carbon the stronger the blade. If you increase the carbon content too much, the steel becomes brittle and useless for sword purposes. It becomes what is known as cast iron and impossible to work. To make steel of the right constituency would have taken great skill. High carbon steel has a property that no other steel possesses. It can be heat hardened and annealed. The hardening process consists of heating the metal to a cherry red colour and quickly quenching it in cold water. This procedure hardens the metal and makes it brittle. Quite useless as a sword blade. The oxidation from the metal blade would be removed ready for annealing. Annealing is the process of heating the metal under controlled conditions whilst waiting for the metal to discolour. These colours are known as temper colours. They can vary depending on the carbon content but usually start from yellow and progress to blue. This procedure gradually softens the metal from its brittle state to a condition of hardness that makes it durable. It is important that the colours are observed closely and the sword quenched in cold water to stop the temper colours at the correct point and position.

The skill of the sword maker would be paramount. The Sutton Hoo sword blade therefore consisted of -  .

56 individual thin rods 2 carbon steel blade edges and 2 tongues for the handle. 60 pieces in all. I would not even attempt to describe the beauty of the gold and garnet handle constituents but refer you to the accompanied photograph of them.

Sword handle components. The quality of the sword and the handle would have required the skills of a host of master craftsmen.

The sword when complete was unlikely to have been used in combat but displayed at ceremonial functions.

It would be more a symbol of status and wealth than fighting prowess. 


The gold buckle 

Probably the grandest and finest of all the artefacts recovered from Sutton Hoo, the gold buckle is the premier find in my estimation.

When observed from the front, it is difficult to discern its exact function.

It consists of 4 main pieces and an ingenious locking system. Weighing about 420g and constructed of cast gold, the main body at the front which extends to the hinges at the oval shaped top piece. Three oval headed pins extrude to the back which are locked by three small circular plates on the thinner back plate which is also hinged as indicated in the graphic. The oval top piece hinges backwards to allow the leather to be fed through prior to locking at the rear.

I have looked at this buckle for some time and still find it hard to visualize how it would be worn securely. It would probably only be worn for ceremonial functions due to the pure beauty and value of it.

The style originates from Germany of which a number have been recovered but none seem to be of this quality.

Dating to the sixth or seventh century, it gives us valuable information as to who this may have belonged to. Note the symmetry of the left and right sides of the design of the main body and the predominance of birds of prey such as the beaks or talons on the left and right of the top two locking pin heads.

Many of the finer gold pieces depict similar ornithological features. 

A modified graphic of the front of the buckle with light and depth added to give you a better idea of the design. 

Graphic showing the great buckle and the complex design on the face. 


The rear of the gold buckle. Note the locking mechanism of on the rear plate. It appears that it was locked by twisting the three small circular plates onto locking pins that protrude from the front. 



One of about 10 silver saucers that survived by being placed in the burial chamber the way we would store them. They had a number of Celt like designs and this is an example of one. 

-: Please Note :-  .

This is a small collection of what was actually found at Sutton Hoo.
There are many books written on this subject where you will find better explanations and actual photographs.

I will hopefully add some more in the future when my design skills improve and I can afford some decent software. 
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 10:27:59 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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