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Treasures from the Sutton Hoo

The Sutton Hoo is arguably one of the most unusual archaeological sites ever excavated. Except for metal objects, nothing remains of this burial ship but a "ghost image". It was discovered in one of several burial mounds located near the small village of Sutton Hoo in England (north-east of London). You can see an aerial photo here.

Mound 1 was excavated in 1939. Deep inside was an impression of a twenty seven metre long oak ship which had been brought close to the site via rivers and then hauled across land to its final resting spot. The wooden parts as well as any textiles were long gone as they rotted away in the acidic soil. No body was found either but soil testing revealed residual phosphate which indicated a human (or animal) body/bones had once been there.

A reconstruction of what the room sized chamber (above left) might have looked liked can be seen at the British Museum which also houses the artifacts. This had to be the final resting place of a great warrior king because of the incredible treasures found in his tomb. Besides his weapons and his armour, he had been buried with gold coins, silver vessels and silver mounted drinking horns and cups (power symbols), bejewelled and precious metal objects and clothing. All for his use in his afterlife.

The jewelry pieces found are magnificent and are a testament to the incredible skill, craftsmanship and creativity of the jewelry artisans of long ago. The belt buckle above for example, is made of heavy gold. It is hollow in part (probably to house a religious relic) with the hinged back carefully hidden and locked in a complicated way. The characteristic Anglo-Saxon style of interlocking weaves were further decorated with punchwork.

Even more impressive are the shoulder clasps (above). These were used to hold the front and back armour together to fit the body more closely in the Roman style. Each consist of two matching halves hinged on a long removable pin attached with a chain (not shown). The decoration includes panels of interlocking stepped garnets and chequer millefiori insets.

All that was left of his purse is the metal purse lid itself (above) as the leather had long since rotted away. It was designed to hang from a belt. The kidney shaped frame enclosed a sheet of horn. Pairs of mounted gold and garnet cellwork (cloisonné ) show intricate pictures of animals and geometric patterns. A couple of them show a man between two wolves and an eagle (symbols of strength and courage). The purse once contained 37 gold coins which have been used to date the burial.

The latest date on the coins was AD 620 which suggests the person was buried not long after this date. East Anglia at this time was the most powerful kingdom in the country so one likely candidate is Raedwald who was the overlord of several kingdoms from AD 616 to probably around AD 626. But no one really knows for sure.

Photo sources
1939 excavation
Reconstructed Burial Chamber
Jewelry photos by Rob Roy: Belt Buckle, Shoulder Clasp, Purse lid

Wikipedia : Sutton Hoo
The British Museum : Sutton Hoo
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 


  1. WOW!! Being a total history nut, and history of the British Isles a particular favorite, this is a wonderful post. LOVE the pictures, especially the armor clasps.

  2. Isn't the workmanship exquisite? My favourite are the shoulder clasps too.

  3. Pearl, wonderful post. As another history fanatic, it's wonderful to see these photos. What exquisite work! Thank you so very much for this post.
    Susan W.(Whitby)

  4. Got here from a link referenced in today's post on warrior jewelry. I just adore historical works, & I really think it's great that a decent part of blogs are focused on the past. It's information that I assume a number of your readers might not ever encounter otherwise - since this is such a good place to learn about what's up & comming, new, fashionable, as well as discovering new techniqes.

    I wish I had found your blog ages ago! Keep up the great work!

  5. Gorgeous! I can't say enough.

  6. The shoulder clasps are absolutely magnificent! And so is the purse.

    Now I'll always wonder why they would drag a boat that far inland...unless of course waterways have changed over the years.....hmmm...

    Fabulous Pearl - simply fabulous.


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