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Well-Preserved 3,000-Year-Old Pre-Viking Sword Unearthed in Denmark is Still Sharp

Well-Preserved 3,000-Year-Old Pre-Viking Sword Unearthed in Denmark is Still Sharp

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By Michael Wing / Epoch Times

On the large island of Zealand, located in eastern Denmark, two amateur archaeologists fortuitously decided to bring their metal detector along with them on a stroll through a field one evening.

While on their walk, the metal detector’s alarm sounded, and the pair from the small town of Svebølle, Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkelsen, made a startling discovery: They dug into the earth, about a foot underground, and uncovered what appeared to be one end of a sword.

Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkelsen with the 3,000-year-old sword they discovered. (Courtesy of Museum Vestsjælland)

Believing that it might be a discovery of considerable significance, they decided to get ahold of someone with more expertise before extracting the find. So, they reburied it, and the next morning they contacted the Museum Vestsjælland to report the discovery.

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A Remarkably Well-Preserved Pre-Viking Sword

The museum’s inspector, Arne Hedegaard Andersen, went out with them the next day, and together they unearthed “an incredibly well-preserved sword,” dating back approximately 3,000 years—to a time that predates the Vikings by about 1,000 years.

Examining the pre-Viking sword. (Courtesy of Museum Vestsjælland)

The weapon is 82 centimeters in length, and although the leather hilt had long since rotted away, still, it was in remarkably good condition, considering its age.

“The sword is so well-preserved that you can clearly see the fine details. And it is even sharp,” stated the museum in a press release. It is also believed that the artifact had remained untouched since the Nordic Bronze Age , between 1,100 to 900 BC.

  • Five Huge Bronze Age axes discovered in a field in Jutland, Denmark
  • Buried for One Thousand Years: The Eerie Graveyard of the Vikings
  • Iron Age Sacrificial Site with Human and Canine Remains Discovered in Denmark

The sword comes from the Nordic Bronze Age. (Courtesy of Museum Vestsjælland)

Incredibly Rare and Ornamental

Although it is hardly unheard of for people in Scandinavia and northern Europe to uncover ancient relics such as jewelry or coins under the soil, swords such as this one are incredibly rare. This sword in particular seems to have been more of a status symbol for its owner rather than a weapon. The intricate bronze-work likely required great skill to fashion. Used more commonly in those days were clubs and axes as a means for actual fighting .

The sword is one of many that has been unearthed in the last few years, and the Danish National Museum currently has a backlog of ancient finds still waiting to be properly studied and cataloged. In the meantime, though, this sword will be displayed in Kalundborg Museum, where sightseers may enjoy its splendor, while it waits its turn.

Viking Swords. ( CC0)

Beautiful Viking sword unearthed in Norway

Inevitably, when one sees an old, tried and trusty sword, particularly a well-crafted one, many romantic ideas spring to mind. One considers the knights of old, fighting duels in defense of a lady one thinks of Saint George slaying dragons with such a weapon. King Arthur, that most romantic of heroes, was said to have gained his throne by being the only person able to release his sword Excalibur from the stone that was holding it fast. One thinks too of the sword of Damocles, hanging over the unfortunate man’s head as a symbol of the eternal threat to the security of human life. One could imagine pirates fighting battles on rolling decks, and of swords used in wars throughout ages of fighting, hand-to-hand or on horseback – desperate life-or-death battles. Certainly the sword is a most romantic item.

Imagine therefore the excitement experienced by those involved in the discovery of a beautifully-wrought, 11th century Viking sword. In 2011 archaeologists were excavating in the Setesdal Valley in Southern Norway. They had located a fairly ordinary looking coffin in the Langeid cemetery, which was soon found to be more interesting than it had it seemed at first glance. The coffin had post holes at each corner, which meant that it had at some stage had a roof thereby denoting that the occupant had been someone of high standing. When the coffin itself was opened, there was disappointment when little of real interest or value, other than two rather damaged coins, was found. One coin was identified as having come from North-western Europe, probably Germany, while the other was an Anglo-Saxon coin which had been minted under Ethelred II , who had ruled England from around 978 AD to 1016 AD.

As the excavation work continued, two more very interesting artefacts were located. Neatly laid along one side of the coffin was a typical Viking battle axe and on the other side, an impressive decorative sword of almost a metre in length. The sword blade was quite heavily rusted but the hilt was reasonably well preserved. The hilt had been wrought and decorated in silver and gold with added silver-thread decorations, and finished off with a thread of copper alloy. The whole was decorated with spirals, letters and various figures. It is thought that the letters were intended as a message, but as yet that has not been deciphered. Small bits of leather and slivers of wood were found adhered to the blade which, it seems, were the remains of what was once the pouch in which this sword was held while the owner was mounted – usually for purposes of war. This lovely sword probably belonged to someone of importance and would most likely have been used in battle.

The Vikings, coming from the Scandinavian lands, launched frequent and aggressive forays into the rest of Europe, notably England, where the unprotected and very richly-endowed monasteries were easy and lucrative prey for them. From early times waves of Viking raiders crossed the seas dividing them from England, ravaging the countryside and returning to their homelands loaded with plundered loot. Towards the end of the 10th Century, Viking raids became organized by royal leaders on a much larger scale.

At this time, extortion became the main aim of these larger attacks, and huge amounts of silver were demanded from the English, who in essence were forced to pay the Vikings to go back to their own lands. Swords, however, were still highly sought after articles, being superior in strength and quality to those from Scandinavia. It is thus not unusual today to find artefacts from many parts of Europe in Scandinavian excavations, which would explain the finds from the Langeid cemetery.

At the beginning of the 11th century, Canute was involved in many of the raids into England, first in support of his father King Svein of Denmark and, after the death of his father, on his own account. Canute brought to England a force of thousands of Viking warriors, reported (according to the chronicler Sven Aggeses) to be armed with swords and battle-axes similar to those found in the Langeid Cemetery. Furthermore, a very large number of these warriors were said to be strong, young and of the royal or noble upper classes of Scandinavian society. Rune stones found in the vicinity of the cemetery also tell of many men from the region which went to fight in support of Canute in the 1013–1014 campaign. Canute was finally crowned King of England in 1016 and soon began sending his warriors back home – after having levied huge taxes on the English people in order to pay his soldiers – so perhaps this sword came home with its owner.

One can seldom be totally sure about the history of an archaeological find of this nature, but considering the evidence it would seem likely that our unknown warrior went to war in the early 11th Century in support of Canute and after the successful outcome of the English campaign, came home (or his body was brought home) to finally be buried with his trusty sword – in a style due his consequence.

Couple Discovered 3000-year-old Bronze-Age Sword While Strolling with their Metal Detector and it is ‘Still Sharp’

In a field in Forsinge, the western part of the large Danish island of Zealand, home to Copenhagen, a couple of amateur archaeologists, Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkelsen, had taken their metal detector along during one of their evenings strolls when the machine alerted them to the presence of something 30 centimeters under the ground.

The pair started digging and eventually unearthed what seemed to be a tip of a sword. Recognizing the potential importance of the discovery, the two reburied the object and contacted Museum Vestsjælland.

They were joined by museum inspector Arne Hedegaard Andersen the next morning and together, they uncovered what the museum called “an incredibly well-preserved sword.”

The museum wrote in a press release:

“The sword is so well-preserved that you can clearly see the fine details. And it is even sharp.”

The museum believes that the sword dates to Phase IV of the Nordic Bronze Age or somewhere between 1100 and 900 BC. The 82-cm bronze sword with a 67-cm blade was still sharp, despite being over 3,000 years old.

The blade will be exhibited at a branch of the museum in the city of Kalundborg before being processed and cataloged. Apparently, Denmark is currently in the midst of a remarkable period when it comes to discovering antiquities from the past.

To name a few, some of the more notable recent discoveries have included the largest-ever find of Viking gold, an 1,100-year-old crucifix that may change the understanding of when Christianity came to Denmark, a hoard of 700-year-old coins, some 2,000 gold spirals used by sun-worshipping priest-kings during the Bronze Age, and a “lost” rune stone turned up in a farmer’s backyard.

As a matter of fact, the discoveries have been so overwhelming that the National Museum of Denmark has said that they have yet to process everything in a timely manner.

Well-Preserved 3,000-Year-Old Pre-Viking Sword Unearthed in Denmark is Still Sharp - History

Evening walk yields amazing find

Not bad for an evening stroll (photo: Museum Vestsjælland)

A couple of amateur archaeologists swinging their metal detector in a field in Forsinge in northwest Zealand have unearthed an amazing find.

About 30 centimetres down where the steady ‘beep, beep, beep’ from their detectors had signalled there was a piece of metal, Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkildsen uncovered a large and amazingly well preserved sword.

The real deal
The pair left it where they found it and contacted Museum Vestsjælland the next morning, which immediately sent archaeologists to the site.

The museum said in a statement that the 82 cm bronze sword dates back to the late Bronze Age from between 1100 to 900 BC. The 67 cm blade was still sharp, despite being over 3000 years old.

The sword will be on display at Kalundborg Museum on Wednesday September 7.

Medieval Sword, Blade Still Sharp, Pulled From Sewer in Denmark

A sword was a status symbol in the Middle Ages, toted around both on and off the battlefield and frequently interred with its owner as a precious grave good. So it came as something of a surprise when a very fine medieval sword was recently found deep within a sewer in Denmark.

As Live Science’s Laura Geggel reports, the relic was uncovered by pipe layer Jannick Vestergaard and engineer Henning Nøhr, who were conducting work on a street in Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth-largest city.

According to the Local Denmark, the sword was subsequently examined by Kenneth Nielsen, an archaeologist at the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland. In a statement by the museum, Nielsen said the sword was found in a layer of waste that had formed on top of the oldest layer of pavement running through Algade, one of the city’s central streets. “Findings from here have always pointed to the 1300s,” he explained.

But it is possible that the sword was forged some time earlier than that. Experts think it may have been in use by the 12th century, suggesting that it had a rich history by the time it was discarded on the ground in Aalborg. And though the sword wasn’t buried in a warrior’s grave, as is typical for artifacts like this, the museum says that it is “completely intact and well-preserved”—so well preserved, in fact, that the double-edged blade is “still sharp.”

Weighing in just over 2 pounds, the sword was rendered with a recess called a “blodrille,” which translates to “blood groove,” and in spite of its macabre name, simply helped make the weapon lighter. A disc-shaped knob, or pommel, crowns the sword’s hilt, and a metal bar over the blade would have protected its owner’s hand. The quality of the craftsmanship is, according to the museum, “extremely high.”

How did this luxurious weapon end up in sewer sludge? Experts can’t say for certain, but Nielsen suggests that it may have been lost during a violent battle. For much of the 13th century, according to the statement, Denmark was beset by power struggles and “civil-war-like conditions” perhaps during one of these conflicts, the sword was dropped and pushed so deeply into the mud that it went unnoticed for centuries.

“The best explanation we can come up with is that the owner of the sword was defeated in a battle,” Nielsen elaborates, according to the Local. “In the tumult, it was then trod down into the layer of mud that formed the street back then.”

The weapon has now been cleaned and preserved, and it's set to go on view at the Aalborg Historical Museum, which is located on Algade street, not far from where the sword was first discovered. Archaeologists, for their part, will continue to keep an eye on sewage work being conducted in the area, in case additional artifacts from Aalborg’s medieval history come to light.

Viking Sword Over 1,100 Old Discovered by Reindeer Hunters 5,400 Feet Above Sea Level

Everyone’s favorite Norse seafarers, the Vikings, originated from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. During what became known as the “Viking Age,” between the late 8th to late 11th centuries, they sailed and raided parts of Europe and were considered brutal raiders. The weapons they carried were not just meant for warfare but were also status symbols with hilts often decorated with silver, copper, and bronze. They were also sacred objects that helped them reach Valhalla after an honorable death. One such Viking sword was recently discovered at a most unlikely location.

The Viking sword was found by Einar Åmbakk, a reindeer hunter, on top of a remote mountain in southern Norway at 1,640 meters (5,381 feet) above sea level. The sword dates back to circa 840-950 CE.

Image Source: Einar Åmbakk

Åmbakk found the sword in a scree-covered area with its hilt buried between a few stones and half of its blade sticking up. Though there are traces of permafrost movement in the area, experts from Oppland’s Glacier Archaeology Program, a collaboration between Oppland County Council and University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, believe it unlikely that the sword reappeared because of the movement as there were no scratches or bends on the sword. This meant that the sword was probably found in its original position or has slid only slightly.

Following the discovery, a team went to the location to look for further finds, but none were found. Archaeologists believe they cannot come up with a plausible explanation why the sword was in such an isolated and high altitude location.

Image Source: Espen Finstad

The survey conducted by the archaeology experts covered a distance of 20 meters from the spot where the sword was found. Not only did they not find anything associated with the sword, but there was also no indication of any burial or sacrifice. It seemed unlikely that it was simply lost or left there and was not recovered. One suggestion was that whoever left the sword there must have found himself lost, perhaps in a snow blizzard. As no remains were found nearby, the experts hoped that if the Viking died a couple of hundred meters further east where there are ice patches, they could have had their first Norwegian Ötzi.

Viking swords were made of a state-of-the-art metal known as “crucible steel” which has very little slag and a high carbon content. The metal quality is astonishing to archaeologists as it required technology and temperatures that weren’t possible until 800 years later.

Image Source: wikipedia

It is believed the Vikings obtained the crucible steel from the Central and South Asia via the trade route that connected Scandinavia and northern Iran. One way of removing slag from ore is to pound it out, though it is not very effective. To get pure iron, modern metalworkers melt the ore at 3,000 o F (1,650 o C) and add carbon to increase its strength. Among the many Viking swords found by archaeologists, over 170 of them were made of crucible steel by Ulfberht using a technique known as pattern-welding. Damascus steel is a similar metal that was made in India during the Middle Ages.

Surprisingly, the sword is remarkably well-preserved except for some rust on the surface and the organic handle that disintegrated. High-quality iron, cold conditions, and low humidity are believed to have been the reason.

According to Lars Pilø, the editor of Secrets of Ice, this wasn’t the first time a well-preserved, iron-made weapon was found. As the glaciers and ice patches recede due to climate change, more and more artifacts are being found in Oppland County. More than half of them, including isolated finds of well-preserved iron arrowheads, date as far back as 6,000 years. Two years ago, hiker Goran Olsen found a Viking sword made circa 750 CE in the Norwegian mountain village of Haukeli, around 150 miles from Oslo.
[sources: SecretsoftheIce, NationalGeographic, History]

10 Archaeological Discoveries from Recent Years that Will Leave You Amazed

The City of Tenea. Image credits: Greece Culture Ministry/BBC

Three thousand years after its founding, the discovery of different types of artifacts close to village Chiliomodi has finally confirmed the existence of the lost and wealthy city of Tenea. Evidence of a sarcophagus in 1984, drew a team of archaeologists to the site again.

That the Trojans were wealthy is evident from the bones, precious jewelry, bullion, vases, and other expensive grave items recovered from the tombs outside the city in 2018. Further up to the north, extensive building facilities with burials of children in the foundations of walls of the residential city ascertained the presence of Tenea. A series of buildings with organized rooms, remnants of clay, marble, and stone floors and walls indicate the city’s luxurious construction.

Researchers also found an atrium with architraves, columns, and other architectural features in the interior of the structures. Also excavated were jars with over 200 coins, and a unique coin designed for the journey to the next world. The findings also include clay pipes, ceramic pots and utensils, and a bone dye. The pottery had distinct shapes with shades of Eastern influence. Among the interesting findings is an engraved iron ring with a seal depicting Serapis, (Greco-Egyptian sun deity), and Cerberus., the mythical three-headed dog that guards the doors of the underworld.

Excavations will continue, and researchers aim to develop a topographical map of Tenea. (1, 2)

7. Researchers identify a 3,000-year-old Mayan structure larger than their pyramids in 2020 using sophisticated technology. The structure may have served as a communal center or probably was once a marketplace.

Photograph of the ancient site of Aguada Fénix. (left) Seen via lidar (right) Image credits: Takeshi Inomata/

Aguada Fénix in Tabasco, Mexico, is a 3,000-year-old complex with a massive, earthen platform topped with a series of structures including a 13-foot-high pyramid identified early June 2020. This is by far the largest and oldest monumental construction in the Mayan region, which was captured by LiDAR technology in 2017 among dense forestation. It is so enormous that, from the ground, it would have been impossible to discover its huge rectangular shape and conclude that it was man-made.

The elevated platform is 1.4 km long, 400 meters wide, 10-15 meters high, and in volume terms (including the buildings on it), surpasses even the Great Pyramid of Giza at 3.7 million cubic meters. It has nine causeways, with the longest being 6.3 km and a series of reservoirs linked to it. The plaza was probably a ceremonial complex involving lots of people, with the causeways being used for processions. A community with no societal hierarchy may have built it. There is another premise that the platform could be a central precinct of another large place. Another view is that it could also have been a marketplace.

Researchers have found a cache of jade axes, symbolic of the end of the collaborative construction project. Also, the unusual pattern to the layers of different soil colors likely denotes the contribution of different groups. (1, 2)

8. In 2018, an eight-year-old girl found a 1,500-year-old, pre-Viking sword in a lake in Sweden. The site may have been a place of sacrifice as another object is retrieved.

Saga sword. Image credits: Jonkoping County Museum via BBC

A family vacationing in Sweden did a fantastic job of keeping the discovery of a pre-Viking era sword in July 2018, a closely guarded secret. Some fun time at a lake led to one of Scandinavia’s most priceless discovery. A young family member was swimming in the Lake Vidostern in Jonkoping County, in southern Sweden. That’s when she felt something in its shallow waters. On pulling out the object, which also had a handle, she knew she had found a sword.

A local archaeologist who inspected the artifact, dated the sword to be at least 1,500 years old, older than even the Viking era. The sword was extremely well-preserved in an encasing of wood and leather. It was just under one meter long, however, rust and age had rendered it a black-brown color. The archaeologists undertook further searches for such other objects before the discovery was made public in October 2018. Incidentally, a brooch dating back to the 3>rd century was also found. Swedish museum specialists were completing conservation works on the sword before it would be made available to visitors. (source)

9. Archaeologists uncover 800-year-old ‘treasure tunnels’ of the Knights Templar under Israeli city. The tunnels served as a conduit for hauling gold to their ‘treasure tower’ and as a link to the port city.

Some 800 years ago, a fabled monastic order of Catholic crusaders called the Knights Templar led Crusades between the 11th and 13 th centuries. The Knights Templars were devout Catholics and warrior monks who fought for God, glory, and gold. Just as their mission is legendary, so is their gold, which they secretly moved through hidden underground tunnels.

In October 2019, LiDAR scans by an archaeologist and a team from National Geographic revealed the presence of a series of tunnels and a guardhouse below the ancient port city of Acre, Israel. These tunnels below the streets of Israel possibly led to a “treasure tower.” The archaeologists believe that the tunnels served to connect the “treasure tower” with the city’s port. The tower is itself now buried below layers of rock and dirt. A video grab released by National Geographic also shows underground Templar caves, which were typical constructions of the 12th-century medieval times. The team also uncovered remnants of the soldiers’ once-extravagant headquarters.

They, however, did not find any evidence of gold, and it was not known if further excavations would take place. (1, 2)

10. An almost entirely intact Roman-mosaic villa floor dating back to the 3rd century was unearthed in Italy. The artistic floor is a part of a villa, probably belonging to a prestigious owner.

Roman mosaic villa floor. Image credits: Municipality of Negrar di Valpolicella/Facebook, Myko Clelland/Twitter

“Breakthrough does not only come from hard work but with consistency in working hard.” – Nokwethemba Nkosi

This holds true for the archaeologists of northern Italy who have finally discovered a mosaic floor below a vineyard in Negrar di Valpolicella, near Verona city. Decades of failed attempts finally led to the serendipitous discovery of this ancient architectural splendor in May 2020.

The findings came to light when the team was discovering “exploratory trenches” in a bid to locate a villa in the hilly area above Negrar di Valpolicella. The mosaic floor is a part of a villa complex already being excavated at the site. The colorful detail comprised of blue and vermillion tiles, which form intricate geometric and floral patterns. They are reminiscent of the opulence and stature of the owner in the Roman period. Held almost perfectly intact in the earth’s bosom, this structure dates back to the 3rd century BCE. Interestingly, parts of the floor and villa were discovered by scholars a century ago before the excavation was halted in 1922, only to resume last summer. After suspending excavations on some occasions in the past year, the team met with success within a week of recommencing exploratory works. (1, 2)


'It is unusual to find a sword of this type today,' said Mr Aksdal. 'It was a costly weapon, and the owner must have used it to show power.'

The Viking Age lasted for more than 300 years, between 700AD to the late 11th century.

The 1,200-year-old sword was found by hiker Gøran Olsen on the border of Telemark in Haukeli (marked) and was examined by an archaeologist from Hordaland County Council

The Viking Age lasted for more than 300 years, between 700AD to the late 11th century. Feared and revered for their violence involving swords and axes (reconstruction pictured), Vikings originated from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The name comes from the Old Norse for 'pirate raid'


Viking laws dictated that all free men were expected to own weapons, and these mainly included spears, swords and battle-axes.

They were carried for battle, but also used as status symbols and their grips were often finely decorated silver, copper and bronze.

Swords were the most expensive to make and were a sign of high status.

Some of the earliest Viking blades were created using a technique known as pattern-welding, which involved forging wrought iron and mild steel.

Later blades were printed with specific marks, believed to have been the name of the maker, such as Ulfberht.

Around 170 Ulfberhts have been found, dating from 800 to 1,000AD and they are made of metal so pure it has baffled archaeologists.

In particular, the technology needed to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.

Feared and revered for their violence, Vikings originated from Denmark, Norway and Sweden and the name comes from the Old Norse for 'pirate raid'.

Warriors often raided ships and their experience at sea led them to settle in other countries including the UK and Ireland.

Viking laws dictated that all free men were expected to own weapons, and these mainly included spears, swords and battle-axes.

They were carried for battle, but also used as status symbols.

As a result, their grips were often finely decorated silver, copper and bronze.

Swords were the most expensive to make and were a sign of high status.

Some of the earliest Viking blades were created using a technique known as pattern-welding, which involved forging wrought iron and mild steel.

Later blades were printed with specific marks, believed to have been the name of the maker, such as Ulfberht.

Although it is well-preserved and strong, the sword found in Haukeli doesn't bear the marks of these superstrong, 'Ulfberht' weapons.

Viking laws dictated all free men were expected to own weapons, and these mainly included spears, swords and battle-axes. Early blades were created using a technique known as pattern-welding, which involved forging wrought iron and mild steel. Later blades were printed with specific marks, such as Ulfberht (pictured)

Viking longship discovery thrills archaeologists

Archaeologists in Norway have used ground-penetrating radar technology to discover an extremely rare Viking longship in what experts are describing as a “sensational” find.

A team from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) harnessed high-resolution georadar to locate the ship in Østfold County, southeastern Norway. The 66-foot vessel, which is located in a burial mound, is just beneath the topsoil at a depth of 1.6 feet.

“The data indicate that the lower part of the ship is still preserved,” said NIKU, in a statement, noting that the ship’s keel and floor timbers appear to be visible.


Dr. Knut Paasche, head of the department of digital archaeology at NIKU, described the find as “incredibly exciting” in the statement, adding that only three well-preserved Viking ships have been found in Norway.

The ship burial (circled) forms part of a larger mound cemetery and settlement site. (Illustration: Lars Gustavsen, NIKU)

“We are certain that there is a ship there, but how much is preserved is hard to say before further investigation,” said Morten Hanisch, county conservator in Østfold, in the statement.

Archaeologists have also identified eight previously-unknown burial mounds, which have been destroyed by plowing, at the site. Additionally, georadar data revealed five longhouses, some of which are “remarkably large.”


Viking families lived in windowless longhouses, which also served as a shelter for their cattle.

The Viking ship was found by georadar at Viksletta right next to the monumental Jelle Mound in Østfold. (Photo: Lars Gustavsen, NIKU)

The site is the next to a monumental Viking burial mound. The longship thus forms part of a cemetery that is clearly designed to display power and influence, according to NIKU project leader Lars Gustavsen. “The ship-burial does not exist in isolation,” he said in a statement.

Archaeologists are now planning to digitally map the site, uncovering more details about the ship without unearthing it and exposing it to the elements. However, experts are not ruling out the possibility of an excavation at some point in the future.


The georadar used in the research project was developed by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro). The Institute’s technology was also used to discover a Roman gladiator school in Austria and provide evidence of additional structures at Stonehenge.

Georadar revealed the outline of the Viking ship. (NIKU)

The longship is just the latest fascinating archaeological find from the time of the Vikings. An 8-year-old girl recently discovered a 1,500-year-old Viking sword in a Swedish lake.

Earlier this year, an incredible trove of silver treasure linked to the era of a famous Viking king was discovered on an island in the Baltic Sea. Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls, and bracelets were found on the German island of Ruegen.

Last year, an incredibly well-preserved Viking sword was found by a reindeer hunter on a remote mountain in Southern Norway. In 2016, archaeologists in Trondheim, Norway, unearthed the church where Viking King Olaf Haraldsson was first enshrined as a saint.


Also, in 2016, a tiny Viking crucifix was found in Denmark.

Fox News&apos Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this article.


Sutton Hoo derives its name from Old English. Sut combined with tun means the "southern farmstead" or "settlement" and hoh refers to a hill "shaped like a heel spur". [2] [3] The same ending survives in a few other placenames, notably Plymouth Hoe and Fingringhoe. [4]

Sutton Hoo, which lies along the banks of the tidal estuary of the River Deben, lends its name to the small Suffolk village of Sutton and its parish. On the opposite bank, is the small harbour town of Woodbridge, which stands about 7 mi (11 km) from the North Sea and just a little below the lowest convenient fording place. [a] It formed a path of entry into East Anglia during the period that followed the end of Roman imperial rule in the 5th century. [6]

South of Woodbridge, there are 6th-century burial grounds at Rushmere, Little Bealings, and Tuddenham St Martin [7] and circling Brightwell Heath, the site of mounds that date from the Bronze Age. [8] There are cemeteries of a similar date at Rendlesham and Ufford. [9] A ship-burial at Snape is the only one in England that can be compared to the example at Sutton Hoo. [10]

The territory between the Orwell and the watersheds of the Alde and Deben rivers may have been an early centre of royal power, originally centred upon Rendlesham or Sutton Hoo, and a primary component in the formation of the East Anglian kingdom. [b] In the early 7th century, Gipeswic (modern Ipswich) began its growth as a centre for foreign trade, [11] Botolph's monastery at Iken was founded by royal grant in 654, [12] and Bede identified Rendlesham as the site of Æthelwold's royal dwelling. [13]

Neolithic and Bronze Age Edit

There is evidence that Sutton Hoo was occupied during the Neolithic period, c. 3000 BCE , when woodland in the area was cleared by agriculturalists. They dug small pits that contained flint-tempered earthenware pots. Several pits were near to hollows where large trees had been uprooted: the Neolithic farmers may have associated the hollows with the pots. [14]

During the Bronze Age, when agricultural communities living in Britain were adopting the newly introduced technology of metalworking, timber-framed roundhouses were built at Sutton Hoo, with wattle and daub walling and thatched roofs. The best surviving example contained a ring of upright posts, up to 30 centimetres (12 in) in diameter, with one pair suggesting an entrance to the south-east. In the central hearth, a faience bead had been dropped. The farmers who dwelt in this house used decorated Beaker-style pottery, cultivated barley, oats, and wheat, and collected hazelnuts. They dug ditches that marked the surrounding grassland into sections, indicating land ownership. The acidic sandy soil eventually became leached and infertile, and it was likely that for this reason, the settlement was eventually abandoned, to be replaced in the Middle Bronze Age (1500-1000 BCE) by sheep or cattle, which were enclosed by wooden stakes. [15]

Iron Age and Romano-British period Edit

During the Iron Age, iron replaced copper and bronze as the dominant form of metal used in the British Isles. In the Middle Iron Age (around 500 BCE), people living in the Sutton Hoo area began to grow crops again, dividing the land into small enclosures now known as Celtic fields. [16] The use of narrow trenches implies grape cultivation, whilst in other places, small pockets of dark soil indicate that big cabbages may have been grown. [17] This cultivation continued into the Romano-British period, from 43 to around 410. Life for the Britons remained unaffected by the arrival of the Romans. Several artefacts from the period, including a few fragments of pottery and a discarded fibula, have been found. As the peoples of Western Europe were encouraged by the Empire to maximise the use of land for growing crops, the area around Sutton Hoo suffered degradation and soil loss. It was eventually abandoned and became overgrown. [17]

Background Edit

Following the withdrawal of the Romans from southern Britain after 410, Germanic tribes such as the Angles and Saxons began to settle in the southeastern part of the island. East Anglia is regarded by many scholars as a region in which this settlement was particularly early and dense the area's name derives from that of the Angles. Over time, the remnants of the pre-existing Brittonic population adopted the culture of the newcomers. [18] [19] [20]

During this period, southern Britain became divided up into a number of small independent kingdoms. Several pagan cemeteries from the kingdom of the East Angles have been found, most notably at Spong Hill and Snape, where a large number of cremations and inhumations were found. Many of the graves were accompanied by grave goods, which included combs, tweezers and brooches, as well as weapons. Sacrificed animals had been placed in the graves. [21]

At the time when the Sutton Hoo cemetery was in use, the River Deben would have formed part of a busy trading and transportation network. A number of settlements grew up along the river, most of which would have been small farmsteads, although it seems likely that there was a larger administrative centre as well, where the local aristocracy held court. Archaeologists have speculated that such a centre may have existed at Rendlesham, Melton, Bromeswell or at Sutton Hoo. It has been suggested that the burial mounds used by wealthier families were later appropriated as sites for early churches. In such cases, the mounds would have been destroyed before the churches were constructed. [22]

The Sutton Hoo grave field contained about twenty barrows it was reserved for people who were buried individually with objects that indicated that they had exceptional wealth or prestige. It was used in this way from around 575 to 625 and contrasts with the Snape cemetery, where the ship-burial and furnished graves were added to a graveyard of buried pots containing cremated ashes. [23] [ citation needed ]

The cremations and inhumations, Mounds 17 and 14 Edit

Martin Carver believes that the cremation burials at Sutton Hoo were "among the earliest" in the cemetery. [22] Two were excavated in 1938. Under Mound 3 were the ashes of a man and a horse placed on a wooden trough or dugout bier, a Frankish iron-headed throwing-axe, and imported objects from the eastern Mediterranean, including the lid of a bronze ewer, part of a miniature carved plaque depicting a winged Victory, and fragments of decorated bone from a casket. [24] Under Mound 4 was the cremated remains of a man and a woman, with a horse and perhaps also a dog, as well as fragments of bone gaming-pieces. [25]

In Mounds 5, 6, and 7, Carver found cremations deposited in bronze bowls. In Mound 5 were found gaming-pieces, small iron shears, a cup, and an ivory box. Mound 7 also contained gaming-pieces, as well as an iron-bound bucket, a sword-belt fitting and a drinking vessel, together with the remains of horse, cattle, red deer, sheep, and pig that had been burnt with the deceased on a pyre. Mound 6 contained cremated animals, gaming-pieces, a sword-belt fitting, and a comb. The Mound 18 grave was very damaged, but of similar kind. [26] Two cremations were found during the 1960s exploration to define the extent of Mound 5, together with two inhumations and a pit with a skull and fragments of decorative foil. [27] In level areas between the mounds, Carver found three furnished inhumations. One small mound held a child's remains, along with his buckle and miniature spear. A man's grave included two belt buckles and a knife, and that of a woman contained a leather bag, a pin and a chatelaine. [28]

The most impressive of the burials without a chamber is that of a young man who was buried with his horse, [29] in Mound 17. [30] The horse would have been sacrificed for the funeral, in a ritual sufficiently standardised to indicate a lack of sentimental attachment to it. Two undisturbed grave-hollows existed side by side under the mound. The man's oak coffin contained his pattern welded sword on his right and his sword-belt, wrapped around the blade, which had a bronze buckle with garnet cloisonné cellwork, two pyramidal strapmounts and a scabbard-buckle. By the man's head were a firesteel and a leather pouch, containing rough garnets and a piece of millefiori glass. Around the coffin were two spears, a shield, a small cauldron and a bronze bowl, a pot, an iron-bound bucket and some animal ribs. In the north-west corner of his grave was a bridle, mounted with circular gilt bronze plaques with interlace ornamentation. [31] These items are on display at Sutton Hoo.

Inhumation graves of this kind are known from both England and Germanic continental Europe, [c] with most dating from the 6th or early 7th century. In about 1820, an example was excavated at Witnesham. [32] There are other examples at Lakenheath in western Suffolk and in the Snape cemetery: [33] Other examples have been inferred from records of the discovery of horse furniture at Eye and Mildenhall. [34]

Although the grave under Mound 14 had been destroyed almost completely by robbing, apparently during a heavy rainstorm, it had contained exceptionally high-quality goods belonging to a woman. These included a chatelaine, a kidney-shaped purse-lid, a bowl, several buckles, a dress-fastener, and the hinges of a casket, all made of silver, and also a fragment of embroidered cloth. [35]

Mound 2 Edit

This important grave, damaged by looters, was probably the source of the many iron ship-rivets found at Sutton Hoo in 1860. In 1938, when the mound was excavated, iron rivets were found, which enabled the Mound 2 grave to be interpreted as a small boat. [36] Carver's re-investigation revealed that there was a rectangular plank-lined chamber, 5 metres (16 ft) long by 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) wide, sunk below the land surface, with the body and grave-goods laid out in it. A small ship had been placed over this in an east-west alignment before a large earth mound was raised. [37]

Chemical analysis of the chamber floor has suggested the presence of a body in the south-western corner. The goods found included fragments of a blue glass cup with a trailed decoration, similar to the recent find from the Prittlewell tomb in Essex. There were two gilt-bronze discs with animal interlace ornament, a bronze brooch, a silver buckle, and a gold-coated stud from a buckle. Four objects had a special kinship with the Mound 1 finds: the tip of a sword blade showed elaborate pattern welding silver-gilt drinking horn-mounts (struck from the same dies as those in Mound 1) and the similarity of two fragments of dragon-like mounts or plaques. [38] Although the rituals were not identical, the association of the contents of the grave shows a connection between the two burials. [39]

The execution burials Edit

The cemetery contained remains of people who died violently, in some cases by hanging and decapitation. Often the bones have not survived, but the flesh had stained the sandy soil: the soil was laminated as digging progressed, so that the emaciated figures of the dead were revealed. Casts were taken of several of these.

The identification and discussion of these burials was led by Carver. [40] Two main groups were excavated, with one arranged around Mound 5 and the other situated beyond the barrow cemetery limits in the field to the east. It is thought that a gallows once stood on Mound 5, in a prominent position near to a significant river-crossing point, and that the graves contained the bodies of criminals, possibly executed from the 8th and 9th centuries onwards.

The new grave field Edit

In 2000, a Suffolk County Council team excavated the site intended for the National Trust's new visitor centre, north of Tranmer House, at a point where the ridge of the Deben valley veers westwards to form a promontory. When the topsoil was removed, early Anglo-Saxon burials were discovered in one corner, with some possessing high-status objects. [41] The area had first attracted attention with the discovery of part of a 6th-century bronze vessel, of eastern Mediterranean origin, that had probably formed part of a furnished burial. The outer surface of the so-called "Bromewell bucket" was decorated with a Syrian- or Nubian-style frieze, depicting naked warriors in combat with leaping lions, and had an inscription in Greek that translated as "Use this in good health, Master Count, for many happy years." [42]

In an area near to a former rose garden, a group of moderate-sized burial mounds was identified. They had long since been levelled, but their position was shown by circular ditches that each enclosed a small deposit indicating the presence of a single burial, probably of unurned human ashes. One burial lay in an irregular oval pit that contained two vessels, a stamped black earthenware urn of late 6th-century type, and a well-preserved large bronze hanging bowl, with openwork hook escutcheons and a related circular mount at the centre. [43] In another burial, a man had been laid next to his spear and covered with a shield of normal size. The shield bore an ornamented boss-stud and two fine metal mounts, ornamented with a predatory bird and a dragon-like creature. [44]

Mound 1 Edit

The ship-burial discovered under Mound 1 in 1939 contained one of the most magnificent archaeological finds in England for its size and completeness, far-reaching connections, the quality and beauty of its contents, and for the profound interest it generated. [45] [46]

The burial Edit

Although practically none of the original timber survived, the form of the ship was perfectly preserved. [47] Stains in the sand had replaced the wood but had preserved many construction details. Nearly all of the iron planking rivets were in their original places. It was possible to survey the original ship, which was found to be 27 metres (89 ft) long, pointed at either end with tall rising stem and stern posts and widening to 4.4 metres (14 ft) in the beam amidships with an inboard depth of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) over the keel line. From the keel board, the hull was constructed clinker-fashion with nine planks on either side, fastened with rivets. Twenty-six wooden ribs strengthened the form. Repairs were visible: this had been a seagoing vessel of excellent craftsmanship, but there was no descending keel. The decking, benches and mast were removed. In the fore and aft sections along the gunwales, there were oar-rests shaped like the Anglo-Saxon letter "thorn", indicating that there may have been positions for forty oarsmen. The central chamber had timber walls at either end and a roof, which was probably pitched.

The heavy oak vessel had been hauled from the river up the hill and lowered into a prepared trench, so only the tops of the stem and stern posts rose above the land surface. [48] After the addition of the body and the artefacts, an oval mound was constructed, which covered the ship and rose above the horizon at the riverward side of the cemetery. [49] The view to the river is now obscured by Top Hat Wood, but the mound would have been a visible symbol of power to those using the waterway. This appears to have been the final occasion upon which the Sutton Hoo cemetery was used for its original purpose. [50]

Long afterwards, the roof collapsed violently under the weight of the mound, compressing the ship's contents into a seam of earth. [51]

The body in the ship-burial Edit

As a body was not found, there was early speculation that the ship-burial was a cenotaph, but soil analyses conducted in 1967 found phosphate traces, supporting the view that a body had disappeared in the acidic soil. [52] The presence of a platform (or a large coffin) that was about 9 feet (2.7 m) long was indicated. [53] An iron-bound wooden bucket, an iron lamp containing beeswax, and a bottle of north continental manufacture were close by. The objects around the body indicate that it lay with the head at the west end of the wooden structure.

Artefacts near the body have been identified as regalia, pointing to its being that of a king. Most of the suggestions for the occupant are East Anglian kings because of the proximity of the royal vill of Rendlesham. Since 1940, when H.M. Chadwick first ventured that the ship-burial was probably the grave of Rædwald, [54] scholarly opinion divided between Rædwald and his son (or step-son) Sigeberht. [52] The man who was buried under Mound 1 cannot be identified, [55] but the identification with Rædwald still has widespread scholarly acceptance. But from time to time, other identifications are suggested, including his son Eorpwald of East Anglia, who succeeded his father in about 624. Rædwald is the most likely of the candidates because of the high quality of the imported and commissioned materials and the resources needed to assemble them, the authority that the gold was intended to convey, the community involvement required to conduct the ritual at a cemetery reserved for an elite, the close proximity of Sutton Hoo to Rendlesham and the probable date horizons. [d] As of 2019, the refurbished museum on the site states that the body is Rædwald while the British Museum just says a "King of East Anglia". Analysis of the Merovingian coins by Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage at the British Museum, has narrowed the date of the burial to 610 to 635. This makes Sigeberht, who died in 637, less likely. Rædwald is still the favourite, although Eorpwald also fits the timescale as he died 627–28. [56]

Closer inspection of the sword hilt suggests that the occupant was left-handed, as the hilt's malleable gold pieces are worn down on the opposite side than would be expected with a right-handed owner. [57] The unorthodox sword placement on the right side of the body supports this theory, as other Anglo Saxon burials placed the sword on the left side of the body. [58]

David M. Wilson has remarked that the metal artworks found in the Sutton Hoo graves were "work of the highest quality, not only in English but in European terms". [59]

Sutton Hoo is a cornerstone of the study of art in Britain in the 6th–9th centuries. George Henderson has described the ship treasures as "the first proven hothouse for the incubation of the Insular style". [60] The gold and garnet fittings show the creative fusion of earlier techniques and motifs by a master goldsmith. Insular art drew upon Irish, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon, native British and Mediterranean artistic sources: the 7th-century Book of Durrow owes as much to Pictish sculpture, British millefiori and enamelwork and Anglo-Saxon cloisonné metalwork as it does to Irish art. [e] The Sutton Hoo treasures represent a continuum from pre-Christian royal accumulation of precious objects from diverse cultural sources, through to the art of gospel books, shrines and liturgical or dynastic objects.

The head area: the helmet, bowls and spoons Edit

On the head's left side was placed a "crested" and masked helmet wrapped in cloths. [61] With its panels of tinned bronze and assembled mounts, the decoration is directly comparable to that found on helmets from the Vendel and Valsgärde burial sites in eastern Sweden. [62] The Sutton Hoo helmet differs from the Swedish examples in having an iron skull of a single vaulted shell and has a full face mask, a solid neck guard and deep cheekpieces. These features have been used to suggest an English origin for the helmet's basic structure the deep cheekpieces have parallels in the Coppergate helmet, found in York. [63] Although outwardly very like the Swedish examples, the Sutton Hoo helmet is a product of better craftsmanship. Helmets are extremely rare finds. No other such figural plaques were known in England, apart from a fragment from a burial at Caenby, Lincolnshire, [64] until the 2009 discovery of the Staffordshire hoard, which contained many. [65] The helmet rusted in the grave and was shattered into hundreds of tiny fragments when the chamber roof collapsed. Restoration of the helmet thus involved the meticulous identification, grouping and orientation of the surviving fragments before it could be reconstructed. [f]

To the head's right was placed inverted a nested set of ten silver bowls, probably made in the Eastern Empire during the sixth century. Beneath them were two silver spoons, possibly from Byzantium, of a type bearing names of the Apostles. [71] One spoon is marked in original nielloed Greek lettering with the name of PAULOS, "Paul". The other, matching spoon had been modified using lettering conventions of a Frankish coin-die cutter, to read SAULOS, "Saul". One theory suggests that the spoons (and possibly also the bowls) were a baptismal gift for the buried person. [72]

The weapons on the right side of the body Edit

On the right of the "body" lay a set of spears, tips uppermost, including three barbed angons, with their heads thrust through a handle of the bronze bowl. [73] Nearby was a wand with a small mount depicting a wolf. [74] Closer to the body lay the sword with a gold and garnet cloisonné pommel 85 centimetres (33 in) long, its pattern welded blade still within its scabbard, with superlative scabbard-bosses of domed cellwork and pyramidal mounts. [75] Attached to this and lying toward the body was the sword harness and belt, fitted with a suite of gold mounts and strap-distributors of extremely intricate garnet cellwork ornament. [76]

Upper body area: purse, shoulder-clasps and great buckle Edit

Together with the sword harness and scabbard mounts, the gold and garnet objects found in the upper body space, which form a co-ordinated ensemble, are among the true wonders of Sutton Hoo. Their artistic and technical quality is exceptional. [77]

The "great" gold buckle is made in three parts. [78] The plate is a long ovoid of a meandering but symmetrical outline with densely interwoven and interpenetrating ribbon animals rendered in chip-carving on the front. The gold surfaces are punched to receive niello detail. The plate is hollow and has a hinged back, forming a secret chamber, possibly for a relic. Both the tongue-plate and hoop are solid, ornamented, and expertly engineered.

Each shoulder-clasp consists of two matching curved halves, hinged upon a long removable chained pin. [79] The surfaces display panels of interlocking stepped garnets and chequer millefiori insets, surrounded by interlaced ornament of Germanic Style II ribbon animals. The half-round clasp ends contain garnet-work of interlocking wild boars with filigree surrounds. On the underside of the mounts are lugs for attachment to a stiff leather cuirass. The function of the clasps is to hold together the two halves of such armour so that it can fit the torso closely in the Roman manner. [80] The cuirass itself, possibly worn in the grave, did not survive. No other Anglo-Saxon cuirass clasps are known.

The ornamental purse-lid, covering a lost leather pouch, hung from the waist-belt. [81] The lid consists of a kidney-shaped cell work-frame enclosing a sheet of the horn, on which were mounted pairs of exquisite garnet cell work plaques depicting birds, wolves devouring men (or the ancient motif of the Master of Animals), geometric motifs and a double panel showing animals with interlaced extremities. The maker derived these images from the ornament of the Swedish-style helmets and shield-mounts. In his work, they are transferred into the cell work medium with dazzling technical and artistic virtuosity.

These are the work of a master-goldsmith who had access to an East Anglian armoury containing the objects used as pattern sources. As an ensemble they enabled the patron to appear imperial. [g] [82] [83] The purse contained thirty-seven gold shillings or tremisses, each originating from a different Frankish mint. They were deliberately collected. There were also three blank coins and two small ingots. [84] This has prompted various explanations: possibly like the Roman obolus they may have been left to pay the forty ghostly oarsmen in the afterworld or were a funeral tribute, or an expression of allegiance. [85] They provide the primary evidence for the date of the burial, which was debatably in the third decade of the 7th century. [86]

The lower body and 'heaps' areas Edit

In the area corresponding to the lower legs of the body were laid out various drinking vessels, including a pair of drinking horns made from the horns of an aurochs, extinct since early medieval times. [87] These have matching die-stamped gilt rim mounts and vandykes, of similar workmanship and design to the shield mounts, and exactly similar to the surviving horn vandykes from Mound 2. [88] In the same area stood a set of maplewood cups with similar rim-mounts and vandykes, [89] and a heap of folded textiles lay on the left side.

A large quantity of material including metal objects and textiles was formed into two folded or packed heaps on the east end of the central wooden structure. This included the extremely rare survival of a long coat of ring-mail, made of alternate rows of welded and riveted iron links, [90] two hanging bowls, [91] leather shoes, [92] a cushion stuffed with feathers, folded objects of leather and a wooden platter. At one side of the heaps lay an iron hammer-axe with a long iron handle, possibly a weapon. [93]

On top of the folded heaps was set a fluted silver dish with drop handles, probably made in Italy, with the relief image of a female head in late Roman style worked into the bowl. [94] This contained a series of small burr-wood cups with rim-mounts, combs of antler, small metal knives, a small silver bowl, and various other small effects (possibly toilet equipment), and including a bone gaming-piece, thought to be the 'king piece' from a set. [95] (Traces of bone above the head position have suggested that a gaming-board was possibly set out, as at Taplow.) Above these was a silver ladle with gilt chevron ornament, also of Mediterranean origin. [96]

Over the whole of this, perched on top of the heaps, or their container, if there was one, lay a very large round silver platter with chased ornament, made in the Eastern Empire circa 500 and bearing the control stamps of Emperor Anastasius I (491–518). [97] On this plate was deposited a piece of unburnt bone of uncertain derivation. [98] The assemblage of Mediterranean silverware in the Sutton Hoo grave is unique for this period in Britain and Europe. [99]

The west and east walls Edit

Along the inner west wall (i.e. the head end) at the north-west corner stood a tall iron stand with a grid near the top. [100] Beside this rested a very large circular shield, [101] with a central boss, mounted with garnets and with die-pressed plaques of interlaced animal ornament. [h] The shield front displayed two large emblems with garnet settings, one a composite metal predatory bird and the other a flying dragon. It also bore animal-ornamented sheet strips directly die-linked to examples from the early cemetery at Vendel [103] near Old Uppsala in Sweden. [104] A small bell, possibly for an animal, lay nearby.

Along the wall was a long square-sectioned whetstone, tapered at either end and carved with human faces on each side. A ring mount, topped by a bronze antlered stag figurine, was fixed to the upper end, possibly made to resemble a late Roman consular sceptre. [105] The purpose of the sceptre has generated considerable debate and a number of theories, some of which point to the potential religious significance of the stag. [106] South of the sceptre was an iron-bound wooden bucket, one of several in the grave. [107]

In the south-west corner was a group of objects which may have been hung up, but when discovered, were compressed together. They included a Coptic or eastern Mediterranean bronze bowl with drop handles and figures of animals, [108] found below a badly deformed six-stringed Anglo-Saxon lyre in a beaver-skin bag, of a Germanic type found in wealthy Anglo-Saxon and north European graves of this date. [109] Uppermost was a large and exceptionally elaborate three-hooked hanging bowl of Insular production, with champleve enamel and millefiori mounts showing fine-line spiral ornament and red cross motifs and with an enamelled metal fish mounted to swivel on a pin within the bowl. [110]

At the east end of the chamber, near the north corner, stood an iron-bound tub of yew containing a smaller bucket. To the south were two small bronze cauldrons, which were probably hung against the wall. A large carinated bronze cauldron, similar to the example from a chamber-grave at Taplow, with iron mounts and two ring-handles was hung by one handle. [111] Nearby lay an iron chain almost 3.5 metres (11 ft) long, of complex ornamental sections and wrought links, for suspending a cauldron from the beams of a large hall. The chain was the product of a British tradition dating back to pre-Roman times. [112] All these items were of a domestic character.

Textiles Edit

The burial chamber was evidently rich in textiles, represented by many fragments preserved, or by chemicals formed by corrosion. [113] They included quantities of twill, possibly from cloaks, blankets or hangings, and the remains of cloaks with characteristic long-pile weaving. There appear to have been more exotic coloured hangings or spreads, including some (possibly imported) woven in stepped lozenge patterns using a Syrian technique in which the weft is looped around the warp to create a textured surface. Two other colour-patterned textiles, near the head and foot of the body area, resemble Scandinavian work of the same period.

Similarities with Swedish burials Edit

A series of excavations in 1881–83 by Hjalmar Stolpe revealed 14 graves in the village of Vendel in eastern Sweden. [114] Several of the burials were contained in boats up to 9 metres (30 ft) long and were furnished with swords, shields, helmets and other items. [115] Beginning in 1928, another gravefield containing princely burials was excavated at Valsgärde. [116] The pagan custom of furnished burial may have reached a natural culmination as Christianity began to make its mark. [117] The Vendel and Valsgärde graves also included ships, similar artefact groups, and many sacrificed animals. [118] Ship-burials for this period are largely confined to eastern Sweden and East Anglia. The earlier mound-burials at Old Uppsala, in the same region, have a more direct bearing on the Beowulf story, but do not contain ship-burials. The famous Gokstad and Oseberg ship-burials of Norway are of a later date.

The inclusion of drinking-horns, lyre, sword and shield, bronze and glass vessels is typical of high-status chamber-graves in England. [119] The similar selection and arrangement of the goods in these graves indicates a conformity of household possessions and funeral customs between people of this status, with the Sutton Hoo ship-burial being a uniquely elaborated version, of exceptional quality. Unusually, Sutton Hoo included regalia and instruments of power and had direct Scandinavian connections. A possible explanation for such connections lies in the well-attested northern custom by which the children of leading men were often raised away from home by a distinguished friend or relative. [120] A future East Anglian king, whilst being fostered in Sweden, could have acquired high-quality objects and made contact with armourers, before returning to East Anglia to rule.

Carver argues that pagan East Anglian rulers would have responded to the growing encroachment of Roman Christendom by employing ever more elaborate cremation rituals, so expressing defiance and independence. The execution victims, if not sacrificed for the ship-burial, perhaps suffered for their dissent from the cult of Christian royalty: [121] their executions may coincide in date with the period of Mercian hegemony over East Anglia in about 760–825. [122]

Connections with Beowulf Edit

Beowulf, the Old English epic poem set in Denmark and Sweden (mostly Götaland) during the first half of the 6th century, opens with the funeral of the great Danish king, Skjöldr (a.k.a. Scyld Scefing or Shield Sheafson), in a ship laden with treasure and has other descriptions of hoards, including Beowulf's own mound-burial. Its picture of warrior life in the hall of the Danish Scylding clan, with formal mead-drinking, minstrel recitation to the lyre and the rewarding of valour with gifts, and the description of a helmet, could all be illustrated from the Sutton Hoo finds. The east Sweden connections seen in several of the Sutton Hoo artefacts reinforce the link to the world of Beowulf. [123]

Several scholars have explained how interpretations of Sutton Hoo and Beowulf have had a bearing on the other. [124] [125] Roberta Frank has demonstrated that the Sutton Hoo discovery initiated an increase in appearances of ‘silver’ in Beowulf translations despite the absence of Old English words connoting silver in the poem. [125]

Sam Newton draws together the Sutton Hoo and Beowulf links with the Rædwald identification. Using genealogical data, he argues that the Wuffing dynasty derived from the Geatish house of Wulfing, mentioned in both Beowulf and the poem Widsith. Possibly the oral materials from which Beowulf was assembled belonged to East Anglian royal tradition, and they and the ship-burial took shape together as heroic restatements of migration-age origins. [126]

Christopher Brooke in The Saxon & Norman Kings (1963) gives copious notes regarding Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo treasure and relates the life of the chiefs in the literary work with the 1939 discovery of the ship-burial. [127]

Prior to 1938 Edit

In medieval times the westerly end of the mound was dug away and a boundary ditch was laid out. Therefore, when looters dug into the apparent centre during the sixteenth century, they missed the real centre: nor could they have foreseen that the deposit lay very deep in the belly of a buried ship, well below the level of the land surface. [128]

In the 16th century, a pit, dated by bottle shards left at the bottom, was dug into Mound 1, narrowly missing the burial. [128] The area was explored extensively during the 19th century, when a small viewing platform was constructed, [129] but no useful records were made. In 1860 it was reported that nearly two bushels of iron screw bolts, presumably ship rivets, had been found at the recent opening of a mound and that it was hoped to open others. [130] [131]

Basil Brown and Charles Phillips: 1938–1939 Edit

In 1910, a mansion with fifteen bedrooms was built a short distance from the mounds and in 1926 the mansion and its arable land was purchased by Colonel Frank Pretty, a retired military officer who had recently married. In 1934, Pretty died, leaving a widow, Edith Pretty, and young son, Robert Dempster Pretty. [132] Following her bereavement, Edith became interested in Spiritualism, a popular religious movement that purported to enable the living to communicate with the dead.

In 1937, Pretty decided to organise an excavation of the mounds. [133] Through the Ipswich Museum, she obtained the services of Basil Brown, a self-taught Suffolk archaeologist who had taken up full-time investigations of Roman sites for the museum. [134] In June 1938, Pretty took him to the site, offered him accommodation and a wage of 30 shillings a week, and suggested that he start digging at Mound 1. [135] Because it had been disturbed by earlier grave diggers, Brown, in consultation with the Ipswich Museum, decided instead to open three smaller mounds (2, 3 and 4). These only revealed fragmented artefacts, as the mounds had been robbed of valuable items. [136] In Mound 2 he found iron ship-rivets and a disturbed chamber burial that contained unusual fragments of metal and glass artefacts. At first, it was undecided as to whether they were Early Anglo-Saxon or Viking objects. [137] The Ipswich Museum then became involved with the excavations [138] the finds became part of the museum's collection.

In May 1939, Brown began work on Mound 1, helped by Pretty's gardener John (Jack) Jacobs, her gamekeeper William Spooner, and another estate worker Bert Fuller. [139] (Jacobs lived with his wife and their three children at Sutton Hoo House.) They drove a trench from the east end and on the third day discovered an iron rivet which Brown identified as a ship's rivet. [i] Within hours others were found still in position. The colossal size of the find became apparent. After several weeks of patiently removing earth from the ship's hull, they reached the burial chamber. [140]

The following month, Charles Phillips of Cambridge University heard rumours of a ship discovery. He was taken to Sutton Hoo by Mr Maynard, the Ipswich Museum curator, and was staggered by what he saw. Within a short time, following discussions with the Ipswich Museum, the British Museum, the Science Museum, and Office of Works, Phillips had taken over responsibility for the excavation of the burial chamber. Initially, Phillips and the British Museum instructed Brown to cease excavating until they could get their team assembled, but he continued working, something which may have saved the site from being looted by treasure hunters. [141] Phillips' team included W.F. Grimes and O.G.S. Crawford of the Ordnance Survey, Peggy Piggott (later known as Margaret Guido) and Stuart Piggott, and other friends and colleagues. [142] Extensive photography of the ship excavation was made by Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff.

The need for secrecy and various vested interests led to a confrontation between Phillips and the Ipswich Museum. In 1935–1936 Phillips and his friend Grahame Clark had taken control of The Prehistoric Society. The curator, Mr. Maynard, then turned his attention to developing Brown's work for the museum. Phillips, who was hostile toward the museum's honorary president, Reid Moir, F.R.S., had now reappeared, and he deliberately excluded Moir and Maynard from the new discovery at Sutton Hoo. [143] After Ipswich Museum prematurely announced the discovery, reporters attempted to access the site, so Pretty paid for two policemen to guard the site 24 hours a day. [144]

The finds, having been packed and removed to London, were brought back for a treasure trove inquest held that autumn at Sutton village hall, where it was decided that since the treasure was buried without the intention to recover it, it was the property of Pretty as the landowner. [145] Pretty decided to bequeath the treasure as a gift to the nation, so that the meaning and excitement of her discovery could be shared by everyone. [146]

When World War II broke out in September 1939, the grave-goods were put in storage. Sutton Hoo was used as a training ground for military vehicles. [147] Phillips and colleagues produced important publications in 1940 including a dedicated issue of Antiquity. [148]

Rupert Bruce-Mitford: 1965–1971 Edit

After the war ended in 1945, the Sutton Hoo artefacts were removed from storage. A team, led by Rupert Bruce-Mitford, from the British Museum's Department of British and Medieval Antiquities, determined their nature and helped to reconstruct and replicate the sceptre and helmet. [149] They also oversaw the conservation of the artefacts, to protect them and enable them to be viewed by the public. [150]

From analysing the data collected in 1938–39, Bruce-Mitford concluded that there were still unanswered questions. As a result of his interest in excavating previously unexplored areas of the Sutton Hoo site, a second archaeological investigation was organised. In 1965, a British Museum team began work, continuing until 1971. The ship impression was re-exposed and found to have suffered some damage, not having been back-filled after excavation in 1939. Nevertheless, it remained sufficiently intact for a plaster cast to be taken and a fiberglass shape produced. The decision was then made to destroy the impression in order to excavate underneath. The mound was later restored to its pre-1939 appearance. The team also determined the limits of Mound 5 and investigated evidence of prehistoric activity on the original land-surface. [151] They scientifically analysed and reconstructed some of the finds.

The three volumes of Bruce-Mitford's definitive text, The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, were published in 1975, 1978 and 1983. [152]

Martin Carver: 1983–1992 Edit

In 1978 a committee was formed in order to mount a third and even larger excavation at Sutton Hoo. Backed by the Society of Antiquaries of London, the committee proposed an investigation to be led by Philip Rahtz from the University of York and Rupert Bruce-Mitford, [153] but the British Museum's reservations led to the committee deciding to collaborate with the Ashmolean Museum. The committee recognised that much had changed in archaeology since the early 1970s. The Conservatives' privatisation policies signalled a decrease in state support for such projects, whilst the emergence of post-processualism in archaeological theory moved many archaeologists toward focussing on concepts such as social change. The Ashmolean's involvement convinced the British Museum and the Society of Antiquaries to help fund the project. In 1982, Martin Carver from the University of York was appointed to run the excavation, with a research design aimed at exploring "the politics, social organisation and ideology" of Sutton Hoo. [154] Despite opposition by those who considered that funds available could be better used for rescue archaeology, in 1983 the project went ahead.

Carver believed in restoring the overgrown site, much of which was riddled with rabbit warrens. [155] After the site was surveyed using new techniques, the topsoil was stripped across an area that included Mounds 2, 5, 6, 7, 17 and 18. A new map of soil patterns and intrusions was produced that showed that the mounds had been sited in relation to prehistoric and Roman enclosure patterns. Anglo-Saxon graves of execution victims were found which were determined to be younger than the primary mounds. Mound 2 was re-explored and afterwards rebuilt. Mound 17, a previously undisturbed burial, was found to contain a young man, his weapons and goods, and a separate grave for a horse. A substantial part of the gravefield was left unexcavated for the benefit of future investigators and as yet unknown scientific methods. [156]

The ship-burial treasure was presented to the nation by the owner, Edith Pretty, and was at the time the largest gift made to the British Museum by a living donor. [158] The principal items are now permanently on display at the British Museum. A display of the original finds excavated in 1938 from Mounds 2, 3 and 4, and replicas of the most important items from Mound 1, can be seen at the Ipswich Museum.

In the 1990s, the Sutton Hoo site, including Sutton Hoo House, was given to the National Trust by the Trustees of the Annie Tranmer Trust. At Sutton Hoo's visitor centre and Exhibition Hall, the newly found hanging bowl and the Bromeswell Bucket, finds from the equestrian grave, and a recreation of the burial chamber and its contents can be seen.

The 2001 Visitor Centre was designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects for the National Trust. Their work included the overall planning of the estate, the design of an exhibition hall and visitor facilities, car parking and the restoration of the Edwardian house to provide additional facilities. [159]

The £5m visitor centre was opened in March 2002 by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who had published a translation of Beowulf. [160]

The Wuffings, a 1997 play written by Ivan Cutting and Kevin Crossley-Holland, reimagines the events leading to the Mound 1 burial. It was performed by the Eastern Angles theatre group at Wickham Market, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Sutton Hoo. [161] [162] The Dig is a 2007 historical novel by John Preston, the nephew of Margaret Guido, which reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation. [163] [164] A Netflix-produced film adaptation of the novel, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, was released in January 2021. [165] Some filming took place in the area around Sutton Hoo. The landscape of the site also features in the Assassin's Creed Valhalla video game released in 2020. [166]

Watch the video: Where do the Scandinavians come from? (June 2022).


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