Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Early Anglo-Saxon period: Sutton Hoo

The discovery of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial marked the earliest archaeological evidence of early Anglo-Saxon time in Britain.  Most people in Britain would have heard of or seen the famous Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum:

We read up on the helmet, and listened to the accompanying podcast.  What we learned was so fascinating that we decided to visit the actual burial site.

At Sutton Hoo, we went on two site tours: the first was a children's tour,which was shorter than the full adult tour and which also left out the grisly bits of Anglo Saxon brutality and focused more on child-friendly activities.

A few of the River Deben.
Burial Mound 2.
One of the children's activities on the tour was having the children estimate the size of the buried ship by counting the number of paces they needed to take from one place to another.

We learned a whole load more from the adult tour led by a working archaeologist, as it went into details about Anglo Saxon life, especially their burial methods, as derived from archaeological evidence gathered from the site.  For example, we saw many recovered burial locations, making Sutton Hoo essentially an enormous burial ground:

One of the unusual and significant burial sites is shown below, of two burial holes laid side-by-side, of a young warrior and his horse (both suspected to have died together in battle):

The archaeologists left the "body" of an Anglo Saxon man in the position he was found in, and explained to us (through pointing out the body position, wounds to the body) how that man had probably been an outcast or criminal condemned to death and thrown into a shallow pit after a particularly gruesome execution:

The following clip gives a good summary of the site and is a snippet of the site tour that we went on:

A Saxon encampment was on site to demonstrate day-to-day life, tools, weapons, and warfare:

Tiger took part in a children's warrior training session where the children were taught important warrior techniques such as how to hold their swords and shields, how to charge at their enemy, and how to maintain a shield wall.

When they were ready, all the warriors put their skills to go use by raiding the....

tea shop!  My young Saxon raider came back with a fairy cake.  Not bad for a first-time raider!

We then spent a good few hours in the exhibition hall, which I thought was superb.  Among the exhibits of gold coins, treasures, Saxon costumes, Saxon life and customs, the most amazing one was a recreation of the Raedwald's burial chamber:

Some examples from the amazing exhibition:

The discovery of Raedwald's burial goods changed people's view of the Anglo-Saxons being a barbaric tribe.

The intricacies of their jewellery and ornaments showed superior craftsmanship and much influence from Scandinavia, perhaps through trading with the Scandianvians in what we believe to be a more peaceful time as compared to the numerous conflicts with the Vikings 200 years later. The beauty and complexity of the Saxon treasures we saw at Sutton Hoo made us want to learn more about their art and culture, so we watched the following to get a better idea:

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