Hands on with the Sutton Hoo Sword

Hands on with the Sutton Hoo Sword

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Sue Brunning (and her trusty foam sword) are back for another sword story. This time Sue takes us up close and personal with one of the most famous swords ever discovered.

#CuratorsCorner #SwordswithSue #SuttonSue

Hands on with the Sutton Hoo Sword - History

TEMPL Historic Arms Sutton Hoo Sword
A hands-on review by Paul Mortimer

The Sutton Hoo sword is part of a long tradition of Germanic swords that began during the late Roman period when some of the tribes, at least those in the north, adopted the Roman cavalry sword, the spatha, and began to make it their own. The evidence for this comes from many bog finds, particularly those in Nydam, Kragehul 1 , Vimose and Illerup Ådal. Apart from details of decoration, fuller, and to some extent length, the blade shape and type continued in use until well into the medieval period. In terms of decoration, the type reaches its zenith during the 6th and 7th centuries with gold- and jewel-encrusted hilts and highly decorative scabbards. After that time, swords, even high status ones, become better balanced with heavier pommels, but plainer by comparison.

The antique historic hilt components shown

The original sword was found in the famous Mound 1 ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk England. This burial has been dated to the early 7th century and current consensus is that the inhabitant was probably King Raedwald who died in about 625 AD. It also contained the largest known buried ship at more than 90 feet in length. There are some 19 known mounds at Sutton Hoo and most of them were robbed, probably during Elizabethan times. Apart from the Mound 1 sword, only one other has been recovered from the site so far and that was found in Mound 17. Like Mound 1, this one was not successfully robbed.

Patrick spent 250 hours on the extremely complex hilt. The grip is made from brown ebony wood and has four inserts of partly mineralised bone to separate the fingers. At each end of the grip are two filigree clips. Patrick experimented with the filigree until he achieved the desired result. Each element of the design is made from separate twisted wires that have then been soldered on to the clip. The sword from Sutton Hoo, at the time of burial, only possessed two clips but Patrick has included four as most surviving swords that have them are equipped with four. There is a Lomabardic sword found in grave 32 in Nocera Umbra, Italy that has four hilt clips that are so similar in technique to the ones on the Sutton Hoo that they are both likely to have been made by the same maker.

At either end of the grip are two sets of metal plates with polished horn inserts between them in the form of a sandwich. Each of the lower plates is slightly dished as they were on the original and all the large rivets that hold the sandwich together are decorated in some way.

The pommel consists of a bronze core which gives the fittings their shape. The tang protrudes through this bronze core and is then peened over to secure the hilt and blade together. To the bronze core are fixed five plates which cover the whole surface of the core. Each plate has a number of cells for the garnets that Patrick has cut, individually to shape. On this pommel there are 41 carved garnets. There are a few garnet pommels of a similar design from the 7th century, found mainly in Sweden, but they were a rare and expensive means of hilt decoration. All the metal parts of the hilt have been gold-plated. I would have preferred solid gold but opted for bronze for cost reasons.

Handling Characteristics
I have four other copies of spatha-type swords from this period. The Bárta sword is by far the easiest to handle, being lighter and better balanced, in spite of being only one inch shorter than the others. Swords of this period were rarely designed for subtle handling techniques, but rather for dynamic slashing attacks. It is only later during the Viking Age and early Middle Ages that an evolutionary change occurs. The development of iron hilt components and blades that featured increased profile taper made more subtle techniques possible. This sword is mainly a cutter, as several small branches of a tree in my garden can testify, but it does thrust quite well too. The blade is flexible yet would thrust adequately against the lightly armoured targets of the era. The grip is comfortable and secure.

The sword is solidly made, handles well, and is made in exactly the same way, as far as we can tell, that a 6th / 7th century sword would have been. There aren't many swordsmiths making swords from this period so this is an extremely good example of a comparatively rare breed.

I am so pleased with the work of Patrick Bárta of TEMPL Historic Arms that I have ordered another sword from him.

About the Author
Paul Mortimer has been interested in weapons as long as he can remember. After a flirtation with the army in his younger years, he became a schoolteacher and now teaches history and mathematics. He is particularly interested in arms and armour of the early medieval period.

Special thanks go to Nathan Bell for his willingness to provide his sword for review.

Photographer: Nathan Robinson

History of archaeology at Sutton Hoo

Archaeology in process at Sutton Hoo Sarah Haile

The discovery of the Great Ship Burial in 1939 not only stunned the archaeology world, but it set the scene for further exploration. Later archaeological campaigns have solved mysteries left by the original dig and revealed more about life in this Anglo-Saxon kingdom.

1600s - Tudor treasure-seekers

We know that the archaeological explorations that unearthed the Great Ship Burial in 1939 were not the first attempts on Sutton Hoo&rsquos mysterious mounds.

Having been left untouched since their creation in approximately 625AD, fast forward to the Tudor period, a time when people were able to obtain a license from the Crown to excavate here. Far from the honourable curiosity that later drove Edith Pretty and Basil Brown, these individuals were after treasure, of which they found a great deal. Valuable objects found would have been melted down and shared between the finder and the Crown

It was through our good fortune, rather than a lack of trying, that these treasure-seekers missed the contents of at least two of the mounds, leaving them undisturbed for the future.

1860 - Plundering for profit

A major campaign of excavation took place at Sutton Hoo in the 19th Century. You can still see small dips in some of the mounds from this activity.

Whilst the excavator plundered a large quantity of rivets, they failed to appreciate that these were part of a ship burial. Rather than explore further, the rivets were allegedly taken to a blacksmith to forge horseshoes.

As with the Tudor treasure-seekers, these gentleman collectors left virtually no record of their finds. However, whilst so much that could have been learned had been lost, there was still a great deal yet to be discovered.

1938 - A tantalising start

After being appointed by landowner Edith Pretty, local archaeologist Basil Brown&rsquos initial excavation at Sutton Hoo took place in June and July of 1938, and focused on three of the burial mounds.

By using the traditional technique of cutting a trench across the mounds, Basil went in search of the chamber, or pit, that lies under all burial mounds. He was looking for a difference in soil colour, which indicates the presence of an in-filled chamber or grave. This was made more difficult than usual, due to interference from &lsquorobbers trenches&rsquo left by treasure seekers centuries before.

Whilst Basil was to discover that each of the mounds had been robbed, still they revealed hints of the glorious finds to come. Within Mound 3, he unearthed the remains of a cremated man, along with a corroded iron axe-head, part of a decorated limestone plaque, fragments of pottery and the lid of a Mediterranean jug. Mound 2 revealed pieces of iron, which Basil recognised as ships&rsquo rivets - although having been previously scattered by grave robbers, they did not immediately suggest a ship burial. He also recovered a beautiful piece of blue glass, a gilt bronze disc, iron knives and the tip of a sword blade.

Mound 4 was the last of the 1938 season, and whilst it had a very shallow pit, and also showed signs of having been robbed, careful excavation revealed some tantalising fragments of bronze, high-quality textile and bone.

Basil had discovered just enough for another season of excavation to be planned&hellip.

1939 - The Great Ship Burial

In May 1939 Basil returned to the site. Having had the previous year&rsquos experience, he felt ready to take on Mound 1, the largest of the burial mounds.

On the discovery of the first piece of iron, Basil immediately stopped work and carefully explored the area with a small trowel. He uncovered five rivets in position on what turned out to be the prow of a ship. Presented with this unforeseen discovery, Basil had to change his trench technique, making it wider to encompass the emerging form. As he worked, Basil revealed the ghost of a ship, including the fragile outline of the curving wood in the sand, showing where all the planks, ribs and even some of the tholes for oars would have been.

Chamber of secrets

Basil reached the burial chamber, located in the centre of the ship, on 14 June 1939. Alarmed at finding signs of robbery, Basil gave a sigh of relief when he realised that quarrying in the Middle Ages had changed the shape of the mound, so when robbers had dug into what they thought was the central burial chamber, they had missed.

On the discovery that Mound 1 was a large ship burial, its chamber undisturbed, word quickly spread. It became evident to Edith Pretty that the significance of what had been found called for experts, and so the dig was swiftly handed over to Charles Phillips of Cambridge University and his handpicked team of brilliant young archaeologists. It was to become the richest grave ever excavated in Europe.

Race against time

At any moment, war could be declared, so without time to source specialist equipment, Charles&rsquo team used what was to hand including a coal shovel, pastry brushes, penknives and a pair of bellows! In the following weeks, excitement mounted with the revelation of treasure after treasure. In total, there were 263 finds of gold, garnet, silver, bronze, enamel, iron, wood, bone, textile, feathers and fur. Amongst the finds included a pattern-welded sword with a jeweled hilt, intricate shoulder clasps of gold inlaid with garnet and glass and the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet - although, when this was excavated, archaeologists found only a series of its shattered fragments.

It was at this point that Charles Phillips was able to identify the ship burials as Anglo-Saxon, and not Viking, confirming Basil&rsquos original conclusion.

War was declared on 3rd September 1939 and the treasures were buried once more, but this time in a disused London Underground tunnel. They survived the Blitz, but the plans of the ship were not stored underground, and went up in flames. This loss led archaeologists to return to the burial site decades later to find answers to a few burning questions.

1965 - 71 - Mystery solved

Two decades after the war, excavations resumed. Led by Rupert Bruce-Mitford and Paul Ashbee, a team returned to find out more about the Great Ship Burial in Mound 1. Most pressing was the question of why no human remains had been found in this elaborate burial. The mystery was solved by chemical analysis of the sand below the burial chamber, which showed high phosphate levels. This established that a body had decomposed there, and certainly the acidic nature of the region&rsquos soil would explain why timbers and human remains alike had dissolved over time.

1983 - 93 - Widening the search

With previous digs focusing on the Great Ship Burial, archaeologist Martin Carver was keen to explore some of the other mounds within the Royal Burial Ground and the areas in between. His instincts were right and, over the course of a decade beginning in 1983, his efforts were rewarded by rich new discoveries including a second ship burial, the resting place of a warrior and the gruesome &lsquosand bodies&rsquo.

The second ship

Following Basil&rsquos initial finds in Mound 2, Martin&rsquos team correctly deduced that this was likely to have contained a very rich ship burial of a person of comparable status to Rædwald. Though the grave had been robbed, and subsequently excavated by Basil, some fine objects had either been left behind or missed, including: two decorated gilt-bronze discs, a bronze brooch and a silver buckle. The tip of a sword blade showing elaborate pattern welding bore a resemblance to that found in the Great Ship Burial in Mound 1, and silver gilt drinking horn mounts were discovered in both mounds and found to have been struck from the same dies. Although the rituals were not identical, comparisons of the content of the burials suggests a similar date and status.

A woman of status

During this decade of investigations, Mound 14 was found to have been the only discernible high-status burial of a woman so far discovered in the Royal Burial Ground, leading some to conclude that this was the resting place of a queen, and perhaps Rædwald&rsquos widow.

Ghosts in the sand

Moving away from the mounds, Martin Carver&rsquos team started to look at the areas in between, and when the soil was scraped back, the outlines of more graves appeared. With careful excavation, human forms could be detected as areas of harder, darker sand. These &lsquosand bodies&rsquo lay in a variety of distorted positions, indicating that, unlike previous finds, these individuals had not been ceremoniously buried. There were other gruesome details: bound legs and ankles, broken necks and some severed heads.

Thirty-nine individuals were found in total, and all died violently - but why? A clue lay in the discovery of post-holes found nearby, which are thought to be the location of the uprights of an early gallows.

With paganism on the wane, the laws of the new Christian administration helped keep order for the kings that followed Rædwald, and capital punishment was part of that order.

What had recently been a Royal Burial Ground for pagan kings, it seems, had become the gruesome resting place for those denied a Christian burial.

Warrior at peace

Towards the end of Martin Carver&rsquos investigations in 1991, there was a marvellous discovery in Mound 17. Much like the Great Ship Burial, it only survived robbers by chance.

The robbers dug straight down in to the centre of the mound, but as it contained two graves, side by side, they dug between and missed both of them. The remains of a young man had been buried in a tree trunk coffin with his weapons and other grave goods including a very fine horse harness. A celebration of this man&rsquos status as a warrior was expressed by the presence of a shield, two spears and a fine sword with a jewelled belt fitting - there were also drinking vessels and food, including lamb chops. The other grave contained the skeleton of his horse.

Reconstructing Mound 2

The final piece of work carried out by Martin Carver was the reconstruction of Mound 2, the only one to receive this treatment. Being one of the biggest of the mounds, it was a prime candidate for reconstruction, and was Martin&rsquos archaeological experiment to see both how this monumental marker would have dominated the seventh-century landscape and also how it would change over time.

1986 - Building a Byzantine bucket

In 1986, during the time that the Tranmers were living at Sutton Hoo, harrowing in the Garden Field brought the Bromeswell Bucket to the surface. Made in the 6th Century, judging by the letterforms used within the bucket&rsquos design, it was already a hundred years old when it arrived here from Antioch in modern Turkey, but then in the Byzantine Empire.

Like many of Sutton Hoo&rsquos most fascinating finds, it was unearthed in fragments. Further discoveries during a metal detecting survey in 2012 unearthed more pieces of this Byzantine bucket.

Through painstaking work, we&rsquove carefully cleaned and reshaped each bucket fragment into its original form. By delicately fixing each piece of our ancient jigsaw onto a mount we&rsquore able to see how this exotic piece of craftsmanship would originally have looked.

2000 - Going further back in time

When building our Visitor Centre during 2000, the area of another hoo peninsula was investigated by Suffolk County Council archaeology unit, revealing an additional Anglo-Saxon cemetery that predated the Royal Burial Ground. Home to the previously discovered Bromeswell Bucket, archaeologists went on to find 13 cremations and 9 burials in the area excavated, five of which were under small burial mounds.

Not quite as grand as the ship burials, these were the graves of residents from a variety of low to relatively high status families. Women had been buried with everyday items including combs, bowls, small knives, shoulder brooches and beads. In many of the male graves were found a spear and a shield. These were part-time warriors, ready to take up arms, but who spent most of their lives farming the land. Despite their lower-status, it&rsquos quite possible that these were the grandparents and great grandparents of East Anglian kings, such as those laid to rest in the Royal Burial Ground many years later.

2017 and 2018 - Research continues

New technological developments over the years allow us to continue to find new strands to the Sutton Hoo story.

Most recently, a team from Bradford University explored the mounds using Ground Penetrating Radar and drone-mounted lasers (LiDAR). These non destructive techniques use pulses of radar and laser respectively, helping to reveal minute details of the construction of the mounds as well as marks left on their surfaces by World War II tanks.

Exploring the viewing tower footprint

Whilst making plans to build the new 17-metre viewing tower overlooking the burial mounds, we carried out an excavation of the ground where the base of the new tower now sits.

Over two weeks in May 2018, Sutton Hoo staff and volunteers helped archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) with their investigations. The BBC, ITV and Radio 4 all came along to enjoy the palpable sense of anticipation as we dug knowing that there was a real possibility of finding something incredible.

Whilst we didn&rsquot uncover anything to rival previous discoveries, the finds told the long history of Sutton Hoo, from prehistoric flints and evidence of Anglo-Saxon camp fires right up to a bread packet from the 1980s!

2019 - Unleash your inner archaeologist

Thanks to funding provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we&rsquove been able to train our volunteers to study a landscape&rsquos geophysics using an earth resistance meter.

If you&rsquod like to discover Sutton Hoo&rsquos hidden depths for yourself, our new volunteer archaeologists are running public participation sessions here on site. Visit our events page for more information.

A Famous Anglo-Saxon Ship Burial

The burial ship that Brown discovered was 27 meters (88.58 ft.) in length, and it was probably hauled up to the burial site from the river. Unlike the ship burial in Mound 2, the burial chamber of this grave was found to be within the ship itself.

It has been assumed that at the center of the chamber was the body of the deceased. As the soil was extremely acidic, however, nothing has survived. Alternatively, it has been suggested that this burial served as a cenotaph, a monument commemorating someone whose body is buried elsewhere.

What Netflix ‘The Dig’ Gets Right And ‘Slanderously’ Wrong About The Sutton Hoo Story

Netfli NFLX x NFLX unearthed some buried treasure with its original feature, The Dig, a historical docudrama based on one of the most consequential archeological discoveries of the 20 th century, that has become the streamer’s first big hit of 2021. The film stars Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown, a local archeologist and excavator hired by widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to investigate some ancient mounds on her property in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England, in the late 1930s runup to World War II.

Knowing that war would disrupt the exploration, archeologists worked to unearth what turned out to be a 70-foot burial ship representing the most significant trove of 7 th century, Anglo Saxon era arms, armor, coins, crafts and household goods ever discovered. The Sutton Hoo treasures now occupy a massive wing of the British Museum, where visitors come from around the world to see the masterpieces of art and craftsmanship from one of the most mysterious eras of human history.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: People view the historic artifacts on display in the new gallery . [+] 'Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300-1100' in the British Museum on March 25, 2014 in London, England. The exhibition in the museum's early medieval collections marks 75 years since the discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure. The gallery's centrepiece are the archelogical finds from the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk one of Britain's most spectacular and important discoveries. The exhibition opens to the general public on March 27, 2014. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

As if that story were not high-stakes enough, The Dig gives us melodrama galore, as Edith, in failing health, tries to prepare her young son Robert for her eventual demise romantic intrigue stalks the team of archeologists class conflicts simmer between the erudite team of British Museum archeologists led by the imperious Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) and the provincial autodidact Brown and of course the clock is ticking down to September, 1939, when Britain goes to war with Germany in the opening act of World War II.

Nearly all historical dramas take some liberty with the underlying facts to move the story along. I was curious how much of The Dig was real and how much was fictionalized, so I reached out to the place where I first became aware of the Sutton Hoo find and its significance: the hugely popular, long-running independent British History Podcast and its host, Jamie Jeffers.

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Jeffers, a lawyer by training, not an archeologist or historian, despite devoting thousands of hours over 10 years documenting the early history of the UK in exacting detail, said he understands the constraints of attempting to tell a story from history in a responsible way.

“Sitting down to watch The Dig, I had a list of things that I wanted to see in the film,” he said. “I wanted references to the rain [that hampered the excavation efforts], the shadow of war, the rescue nature of the dig, the problem of rabbits [which can damage or destroy buried goods and make dig conditions hazardous], how class issues affected the dig, and many other things. And in the first 20 minutes, the film ticked most of the boxes I was looking for.”

However, he went on to list a litany of liberties the film took, including some that went completely contrary to recorded events. The biggest issues, he said, surrounded the character of Edith’s cousin and excavation photographer Rory (Johnny Flynn), a wholly fictional creation who not only introduced unnecessary issues with several of the real life people, but also squeezed two pioneers out of their place in the spotlight.

“We know who the Sutton Hoo photographers were,” observed Jeffers. “Their names were Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff. Yes, two women. And it’s believed that they produced the first color photographs of an archaeological excavation in England, and thus they made history with their work. But instead of giving them their due, these two groundbreaking women were replaced by the fictional hunk-a-hunk-a-burning love, Rory.”

Rory was also the point of a love triangle between real life archeologists Stuart Piggott and his wife Peggy. In The Dig, this is portrayed as a May-September relationship between the young, fresh-out-of-grad school Peggy and the older, closeted gay man Stuart. Problem is, none of that is historically correct. Jeffers says, in fact, that it is “staggeringly slanderous.”

“Peggy was not an inexperienced sweet young thing who was chosen because she was small and petite,” he said. “She was an experienced archaeologist who had worked on previous digs and who was a postgrad archaeologist and published scholar. And as for her husband [who was only two years older]… I am aware of no evidence that Stuart was homosexual.”

There’s also no evidence that Peggy left her husband or cast away her wedding ring at that time, although the couple was divorced decades later.

These are curious distortions considering that The Dig was based on a 2007 novel by John Preston, who is Peggy Piggott’s nephew. Jeffers points out, however, that Preston only became aware of the Sutton Hoo dig in the mid-2000s and Peggy died in the mid 1990s. “Unless there were some seances or Ouija boards involved, I am confident in saying that this information didn’t come from Peggy,” he said.

Jeffers also took exception to the depiction of eminent British archeologist Charles Phillips, who comes across as a class-conscious snob quick to dismiss the efforts that Brown had taken prior to his arrival. “The film went to great effort to portray him as an old, overweight villain. Charles, who was portrayed by a 66 year old actor, would have been about 38 at the time. It would probably surprise the viewers of the film to learn that he actually worked with Basil Brown for a while before taking over responsibility for the dig.”

Moreover, the film diminished his actual expertise by showing him surprised at the level of culture exhibited by the craftsmanship of the items found in the dig. Jeffers, who has expounded for hundreds of episodes of his podcast on the complexities of Anglo Saxon culture during the so-called Dark Ages, thought it preposterous that Phillips would have been ignorant of the history, which had already been confirmed by previous archeological discoveries of the 19 th and early 20 th centuries.

Jeffers had much more to say about the film and the related historical issues, and pointed anyone interested in the real story to episodes 104 and 105 of the BHP, where he discusses the actual events and the inventory of objects unearthed at Sutton Hoo.

Obviously plenty of Netflix viewers who happen not to be experts in ancient history or scholars of archeology are enjoying The Dig on its own terms. Fiennes in particular is excellent as the stoic Brown, and the photography captures the natural beauty and social contrasts of between-the-wars Britain. But by scattering its focus across multiple fictionalized relationships and played-up conflicts, The Dig distracts its audience from the most dramatic part of the story: the race against time by meticulous and deliberate archeologists to salvage one of the greatest historical finds of all time before the clouds of war closed around Great Britain.

Deepeeka Sutton Hoo sword with enamel

This beautiful decorative sword is an asset for early medieval sword enthusiasts! This replica is based on an original swordhilt from the seventh century found in the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. The most famous finds from this burial site are the buckle and the Sutton Hoo helmet, but many other beautiful objects have been excavated here that offer us insight into the world of the noble Anglo-Saxons. According to some archaeologists, this was the resting place of King Raedwald of East Anglia and the objects were meant for use in the hereafter. The blade of the original sword has been lost, therefore this replica has a common type of early medieval blade with a long broad fuller. Just like the original, the grip is made of different parts that are riveted together. The grip consists of a wooden core that is wrapped with high quality brown leather and is decorated with brass fittings. The fittings are decorated with spiral-shaped early medieval art motifs. The pommel and guard consist of wooden discs, with a brass disc on either side. The pommel is made in typical early medieval style with red enamel in cloisonné (small brass compartments into which the molten glass is poured). The sword is delivered including a brown leather scabbard with wooden core, decorated with brass fittings and it has a belt loop so that you can hang it on your belt.

Material: EN45 spring steel, leather, brass, glass, wood
Length: approx. 89 cm
Blade length: approx. 74 cm
Edge: 1 mm semi-sharp (only suitable for decorative use)
Grip length: approx. 11 cm
Max. blade width: approx. 5 cm
Point of balance: approx. 17 cm below cross-guard
Incl. brown leather scabbard with wooden core
Weight: approx. 1,2 kg (1,6 kg with scabbard)
Based on a historical original
Transport weight (gram): 2000 *

We do not sell this product to customers under the age of 18. Click here for more information on the European arms acts.

This item is produced in limited quantities only. This means that every piece is unique. Sizes & finish may vary lightly from piece to piece.

This item is semi-sharp and designed for decorative purposes. It can be made razor sharp at a surcharge. When using the sharpening service, the return right and warranty expires. The extra delivery time is approx. 2 weeks

Prevent rust and corrosion by oiling your weapons regularly. Remove rust easily with black sandpaper. Remove burrs with a whetstone. Make sure you have removed all burrs before using a battle-ready weapon, as they can cause wounds.

Maintenance & care
Just as with weaponry, you can care for your shoes and leatherware by applying a little Ballistol after cleaning. This prevents the leather from drying out.

Thread: sutton hoo replica items.

i don't know if this is where to post it but has anyone seen good replicas of the items from sutton hoo. in particular the famous belt buckel, not in gold like the original but maybe in bronze. i'm not able to make any purchases now but i havnt seen any real replicas of the items for sale yet and when i can wouldnt mind the buckle to slap on the belt for my custom. plus has anyone re-made the sutton hoo sword, custom or what not and has pictures of it.

i ask cause i just got out from the library like 15 books on sutton hoo and there kinda wet with drool looking at the awesome things the ancestors made. thanks if anyone can supply links or pictures of repros, even links to people that could remake them from images when the time comes.

There is an English Smith by the name of Chris Blythman who has made a few replicas of the Sutton Hoo collection for museums across the country. He is very good and his prices are reasonable.

"I have declaired in my prdoxes of defence of the false teachinge of the noble scyence of defence used here by the Italyon fencers."

Questions? Contact Us Click-to-Call:800-518-2171Click-to-Call

This reproduction of the famous Sutton Hoo sword of the British Museum collection has a blade which is forged from high carbon steel. The hilt has a composite guard and pommel of wood and brass which, like the original, are secured with rivets. The hardwood grip is wrapped in fitted leather and vibrant red enamel inset into the pommel cap replicates the garnet of the original which was inlaid with the cloisonn? technique.

The sword is matched with a wooden scabbard which is wrapped in leather and completed with antiqued brass accents and wooden suspension loop which can be used to wear this sword on a baldric or belt.

Overall Length: 34 5/8''
Blade: 28 9/16''
Weight: 2 lbs 9.8 oz

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The hand of the king? Finding the man in the Sutton Hoo ship

In this guest post Dr. Sue Brunning, curator of Insular Early Medieval Collections at the British Museum, reflects on the human story behind the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Dr Brunning will be giving a gallery talk and tour the new Sutton Hoo gallery as part of the Being Human festival on Tuesday 18 November.

Discovery of a lifetime

In 1939, archaeologist Basil Brown made the discovery of a lifetime on a Suffolk country estate: the undisturbed burial of an Anglo-Saxon VIP. Sometime in the early AD 600s, this person had been honoured with a spectacular funeral. A 27-metre-long ship was dragged to the burial ground and a wooden chamber built in its centre. The dead man was laid inside among an array of treasures: Byzantine silver vessels, gold jewellery, sumptuous textiles and gem-encrusted war-gear. The whole thing was covered with a huge earth mound, creating a permanent memorial in the landscape. His body wasn’t found, destroyed by the acidic soil, but the nature of his burial, together with the quality and quantity of its contents, leave no doubt that he was a leading figure in the local Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia. He may even have been its king.

The face in the helmet

To me, the Sutton Hoo ship burial is so remarkable that it can seem larger than life. It’s hard to believe a living, breathing human being, just like us, was commemorated here but the objects buried with him help us to connect with him across the centuries. Chief among these is his helmet, a magnificent decorated piece with a haunting human face: eye sockets, a nose, a mouth and even a neat little moustache. Ironically, it’s not just a human face: it’s also a fantastical flying beast. The curved eyebrows are its outstretched wings, the nose its body and the moustache its tail, while its head pokes upwards between the eyebrows. Most visitors I speak to in the gallery don’t see the creature until I point it out. First and foremost they see the human face, because as humans this is what we tend to do.

The man in the ship

The helmet’s face seems to humanise the man in the ship burial, bringing us closest to him. In fact, it’s sort of an illusion: an idealised projection of power, majesty and perhaps even god-like status. This is who he wanted people to think he was, rather than who he truly was. This can make him unreal and otherworldly again, and while we can certainly admire him, we can’t connect with him on a human level. But another object in his grave can help us to do this.

An ornate sword was laid beside the dead man, its hilt (handle) made of gold inlaid with garnet gemstones. Delicate beaded wire used to decorate the hilt is badly worn down. My research into Anglo-Saxon swords has shown that this was probably caused by sword’s owner touching the hilt when he wore it sheathed at his hip. Perhaps he rubbed it habitually, like many of us do with pendants or wedding rings today or he rested his hand on it as a gesture of authority or self-importance, like standing up straight or putting your hands on your hips. To me, this brings him sharply back to life: while his status was clearly extraordinary, we can see him now as a living person one who shared little quirks and behaviours that are at the heart of being human.

Communicating these messages to our visitors is one of the best parts of my job, and this is what I will be doing at the Being Human festival of the humanities. Making research and collections ‘human’ is what the festival is all about. I am looking forward to playing my part in doing just that.

The Sutton Hoo ship burial was donated to the British Museum by Mrs Edith Pretty in 1939. It forms the centrepiece of Room 41, the Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100 which opened in March 2014 following a major refurbishment. Admission is free.

The British Museum is one of many museums and research organisations taking part in the Being Human festival. For updates on that programme and on the festival follow us on Twitter @BeingHumanFest, and on Pinterest. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter, too!

Worn & Wielded: The Sutton Hoo Helmet

The Sutton Hoo helmet is perhaps the most iconic image of the Anglo-Saxon age. It is a fascinating object with a fascinating history, so let’s take a look at an item ‘worn and wielded’ by the Anglo-Saxons.

  • Bretwalda – a term used to denote Anglo-Saxon kings whose influence was recognized across large swathes of Britain during their reign, often exacting tribute from other kingdoms.
  • Extant – something that has survived and still exists in its original form, not being a copy or reproduction
  • Haft – the handle of a weapon or tool, usually wooden
  • Helm – an older and poetic word for helmet
  • Skald – a storyteller in ancient Scandinavian culture, who memorized and recited stores of legendary heroes
  • Wargear – a kenning (descriptive phrase) meaning a warrior’s weapons, equipment and armour
  • Wyrm – an Anglo-Saxon word for dragon or serpent

A Warrior’s Gear

Let us suppose you are a soldier on a battlefield, clad in your clothes, with perhaps a leather jerkin to protect your body. You hold a great round shield and spear, and a straight-bladed fighting knife at your side. If you’re wealthier than your companions, you have a simple helmet of steel enclosing your head above the level of your eyes. Your companions stand to your left and right there is safety in your press of numbers. Surely none could penetrate your shield-wall? You and your enemies shout your taunts and battle-cries, crashing your spear-hafts against your shields. The rhythm of the war-beating rolls up and down the ranks. Adrenaline rushes through you, ready for battle, to face the enemy shield-to-shield.

And then you see the enemy leader. Perhaps the sea-mist parts or the sun suddenly glints on metal. It is their king, standing in the midst of their ranks, or on high ground behind his army mounted on a horse, and your blood runs cold. For this is surely no man, but a terrible god of war from the stories of old. Clad all in shining mail, resplendent in furs and gleaming with gold, silver and jewels, wrought in cunning devices by master-craftsmen. In his hand is a huge embossed shield, covered with intricate carving and runes. At his side is a magnificent sword, whose hilt glitters with carved gold and red garnets, worn on a belt clasped with a huge golden buckle, depicting serpents writhing over each other. His cloak is fixed in place with enormous jeweled clasps, each of which costs a king’s ransom.

But what of the face of this king? There is no face, only a mighty helmet covering the whole head in paneled metal. The face is covered by a metal mask, and from two eye-holes this warrior looks out. The panels are of silver, showing scenes of mythology and heritage, and golden designs of dragons and boars run along the crest and round the face of this man. He turns his head slowly, surveying your army, but from the depths of those black eye-sockets, no eyes are visible.

When I first saw the Sutton Hoo helmet as a child, it struck me as the most bizarre piece of armour I had ever seen. Most British schoolchildren are used to seeing Roman or medieval helmets, but the Sutton Hoo Helmet is utterly strange. At first I thought it rather a ridiculous item, with its moustache, but the more I looked at it, the more unsettling it became.

Gifts From the Earth

The history of the Sutton Hoo excavation is an exciting story in and of itself, and I don’t have space to do it justice here. The (very) short version is that the Sutton Hoo ship was unearthed in 1939, and turned ideas about Anglo-Saxon history on their head. The broad consensus before this discovery was that they were a fairly primitive people whose only wealth came from borrowing and copying the metalwork and artistry of others, but suddenly it was shown that the Anglo-Saxons were sophisticated, powerful and capable of producing fabulous goods, and that their kingdoms traded far and wide throughout the world. The grave-goods were unlike anything that had been excavated on British soil, and it has rightly been hailed as the most important archaeological discovery on these islands.

Until the discovery of Sutton Hoo, it was presumed that the descriptions of elaborate ship burials in Beowulf and other extant literature were creations of storytellers, embellishing simple internments with the trappings of mythology. Suddenly, these were not fanciful skald’s tales, but very real descriptions of very impressive ceremonies.

The ship burial took the form of a huge ship (something over 27 metres in length) buried beneath an earth mound. In the middle of the ship was the wooden burial chamber itself, containing the body, surrounded by a wealth of fabulous goods, including weapons, cutlery, clothes, games, tools, drinking horns, armour, serving bowls, coins, jewelry, crosses and furniture. In short, it was everything a king would need in the halls of the afterlife. Fortunately the grave had not been robbed, and had lain undisturbed for twelve centuries, but the acidity of the soil had rotted the timbers, and caused the burial chamber to collapse. This meant that the helmet, and several other important relics, were in literally hundreds of tiny metal fragments.

A Complicated Jigsaw Puzzle

We can easily picture the challenge for the restorers. It was a jigsaw puzzle of more than 500 small iron fragments, except it was a jigsaw picture with no image. They did not know what it looked like, and the first effort, completed in 1947, had to be dismantled in 1968, after it was found to be inaccurate. It took a long year of slow, painstaking work, but slowly the helmet came into being, and its true wonder and power were revealed. Work since that time has revealed many interesting and curious items, and the reconstructions, one of which is the featured image for this article, give an idea of this strange piece of armour, and how it would have appeared when worn.

Signs & Symbols

The helmet is based on continental, late-Roman styles, but with many differences and adaptations. It is similar to other Anglo-Saxon helmets, but shares much with Scandinavian design, showing the network of artistic and cultural influence that stretched across the Northern World. It is much older than the grave, indicating that it was probably a prestige item, perhaps a family heirloom or type of proto-crown handed down to the man in the grave. It became apparent that the helmet had been covered with decorated with carved metal panels, depicting a figure possibly meant to be Odin, as well as a mounted warrior trampling his enemies beneath his feet terrible portents indeed if one were to meet this helmeted warrior in battle. ‘You are next’ the helmet declares, ‘if you stand in my way’. There are also other figures whose identification is still a mystery, and much beautiful tracery on the cheek-guards.

The main features are the animals. A serpentine dragon stretches its golden body over the crest of the helm, and a second wyrm flies over the face, soaring upwards, its wings cunningly crafted to resemble boars that form the eyebrows of the face mask. These are set with beautiful garnets that were mounted so as to catch the light. Interestingly, the garnets are missing from one eye, and for a long time it was thought to be due to loss or damage, but another idea has emerged recently perhaps it was a deliberate design choice to make eye appear an empty socket, matching the one-eyed god Woden or Odin, who traded his eye for knowledge.

This helmet is strangely reminiscent of the poetry of Beowulf, where, ‘the bound blade, beaten out by hammers, cuts […] through the boars that bristle above the foes’ helmets’. and, ‘His head was encircled by a silver helmet, […] the weapon-smith had wonderfully made it, so that no sword should afterward be able to cut through the defending wild boars that faced about it’. These are tantalizing links between the helmet and poem.

Purely Ceremonial?

Even before the helmet had been reconstructed, the debates were already raging amongst historians, academics and archeologists about who this man was, and whether such a fabulous helmet would ever actually have been worn in battle. The broad consensus is that the grave is probably that of King Raedwald of East King, a powerful warlord in the 7 th century. The evidence from coins and other evidence line up closely with his reign, as well as the location, for Sutton Hoo lies close to the heart of his kingdom. He is one of the few Anglo-Saxon kings to be awarded the historical title of Bretwalda, a non-contemporary term roughly meaning ‘Wide-Ruler’, or ‘High-King’ in modern parlance.

At first, it was assumed that such ornate and beautiful gear could not possibly have worn in battle. After all, it was too valuable to risk being damage and represented considerable wealth if lost, damaged or stolen. However, opinion began to change as we discovered more about the Anglo-Saxon mindset and how they thought, as well as interesting material evidence from Sutton Hoo and other finds, such as the Staffordshire Hoard. The wargear, including the helmet, showed signs of having been repaired by craftsmen, showing that it was used and damaged in battle. The sword hilt was sworn down on one side, showing that the user made a habit of resting his hand on it for long periods of time. These were not precious family heirlooms kept in the silver cupboard, but highly-effective armour meant for the din and slaughter of battle.

Tests with the replicas have shown that the helmet offers exceptional protection and flexibility for the wearer, featuring a wide and full neck guard and complete covering of the face, cheeks and temples, often the most vulnerable part of any helmet of that period. When worn with the armour, it gave the wearer an impressive stature.

It soon became apparent that the early Anglo-Saxons did not think of wealth in the same way that we do. Our mindset is that wealth is very much ‘static’. The most valuable things many of us own are not easily transportable on our person. They are houses, vehicles, business premises, land or investments. We may have valuable clothes and jewels, but even our technology tends to be fixed to a location. However, the Anglo-Saxons thought much differently. They believed that your wealth was primarily to be displayed on the body, worn and used and wielded as a psychological weapon against your enemies. ‘Here I am’ the helmet declares, ‘I am descended from Woden himself, and I am a mighty warrior’. The best and most successful warriors and kings could afford the very best in sword-smithing and armour, and they were not afraid to show it.

Further Reading

I hope this was enjoyable and informative, and below are some recommended books if you want to find out more.

Watch the video: Sutton Hoo Armor Gear Location Assassins Creed Valhalla