Sutton Hoo: Facts About the Anglo-Saxon Burial Site

Here are some facts about Sutton Hoo, the burial site of an important Anglo-Saxon warrior.

  • Sutton Hoo is near the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, England. The site was excavated in the 1930s and it has revealed some incredibly important finds and helped to further our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain.

  • The items discovered at Sutton Hoo date from the 7th century. One of the items discovered in a burial chamber was an entire ship and its contents. The ship almost certainly belonged to an important warrior or leader and it was hauled up the River Deben to the burial site.
  • Buried with the ship were weapons, clothing, coins and valuable gold and silver items, some from the eastern Roman Empire.
  • The remains of a body did not survive because of the acidic soil, but phosphate analysis has indicated that there was once one present.
  • Many historians have concluded that Raedwald, the ruler of the East Angles, was the person who was buried with the ship. However, some believe it might be the final resting place of the warlord Aethelhere, Raedwald’s nephew, who died in 655 while fighting for Penda.
  • With a length of 90 feet, the ship was larger than many of today’s ocean going yachts. Although much of the ship had decomposed, archaeologists found many of the iron rivets still intact.
  • Fragments of various textiles were found in the chamber. These included cloaks and blankets, as well as brightly coloured cloth, possibly imported from overseas.
  • The most iconic item found at Sutton Hoo was the elaborate helmet. Wrapped in cloth and placed next to the head of the body, the helemt is one of the most important artefacts ever discoverd in England.

Sutton Hoo

  • The helmet has an iron crest decorated with two snake heads, and the helmet’s entire surface would have been covered with plaques showing scenes of warriors, battle and animals.
  • The helmet is encrusted with garnets (a semi-precious stone very popular in Anglo-Saxon times).
  • The shape of the helmet has similarities to those found in ship burials in eastern Sweden, but it also shares some features with helmets worn in the Roman Empire.
  • It is estimated that the Sutton Hoo helmet would have weight approximately 2.5 kg. It is not known whether the helmet would have been used in battle or whether it was only ceremonial.
  • There are 18 burial mounds in total at Sutton Hoo. Most were ransacked before they could be excavated by trained archaeologists. The majority of the important Anglo-Saxon artifacts were found in only a couple of mounds. Today, visitors are not allowed to stand on the mounds without a guide.
  • The area around Sutton Hoo, near to the River Deben estuary, was occupied as long ago as 3,000 BC.
  • Many of the treasures from Sutton Hoo are on permanent display in the British Museum in London. Some can also be seen in the National Trust visitor’s centre near the site.
  • The burial of the ship and its contents have been likened to those in the epic English poem Beowulf, which includes a description of a funeral in a treasure filled ship. There are also similarities with burials in Scandinavian countries.
  • The Sutton Hoo site was located on land owned by Edith Pretty, and the archaeological investigations there were begun by Basil Brown in 1938 and 1939.
  • John Preston’s historical novel The Dig focuses on Basil Brown’s 1939 excavations. In 2021 The Dig was turned into a film starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and Carey Mulligan.
  • Archaeologist Dr Sue Brunning has carried out a study of the sword found at Sutton Hoo. She has discoved that it is likely that the owner was left-handed, and that the sword was worn on the right of the body.
  • In 2021 a viewing tower was opened on the National Trust Sutton Hoo site. It is 17 metres high and made from wood and metal. It gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the site, and allows them to better identify the location of the ship burial.
  • Every year between 100,000 and 200,000 people visit the Sutton Hoo site.
  • The Sutton Hoo ship burial is the inspiration for Keven Crossley-Holland’s 1997 play The Wuffings.
  • The landscape of the Sutton Hoo site features in the 2020 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla videogame.
  • The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company is currently building a reconstruction of the wooden ship buried at Sutton Hoo. They are hoping to have the project completed by 2024, and are intending to sail from the River Deben to the Thames, and then want to go to the mouth of the River Trent, and on to Hartlepool and Whitby.
  • Pauline M. Sabin Moore has written a series of historical novels set in the 7th century and based around the Sutton Hoo site. The titles include Storm Frost and Brightfire.
  • The Darkness (a UK rock band) included a song titled Sutton Hoo on their 2019 Easter is Cancelled album.
  • Harriet Goodwin’s children’s book Gravenhunger is said to have been inspired by the Sutton Hoo site.