Oct 01, 2010 Further Info Comments Off on Return to Sutton Hoo
After such sensational discoveries it was inevitable that archaeologists would return to Sutton Hoo. Rupert Bruce-Mitford was the first to pick up where the 1939 team left off, re-excavating Mound 1 and removing the remaining ship rivets in the 1960s.
A more substantial campaign spanning 1983-2001 was masterminded by Martin Carver. This included another look at Mound 2, and revealed that Brown’s boat was in fact silt that had accumulated after 19th century digging. An article published in the Ipswich Journal in 1860 reports this activity, noting that a large quantity of iron bolts were discovered, and promptly recycled as horse shoes. Carver’s investigations confirmed that Mound 2 was a boat burial, with the burial chamber lying underneath, and revealed that some 800 rivets had evaded 19th century attention.
Happily post 30s research has concerned itself with more than just harvesting boat rivets, and Carver’s excavations revealed that bodies as well as ships could survive as ghostly outlines in the Sutton Hoo soil. Of these the most interesting was the discovery of Mound 17, the only one apart from Mound 1 to have survived intact. Two burials were preserved under this. One contained the ‘Sutton Hoo Prince’, a man in his twenties who had been interred with his sword, shield, cauldron and horse harness; the other contained the horse itself.
Sutton Hoo’s association with death did not end with the seventh century ship burials. Carver’s campaign revealed a multitude of lower status burials that continued into the tenth or eleventh centuries. These were clustered around Mound 5 and the eastern end of the cemetery. Unlike their predecessors, the unfortunates interred in these graves were not brought to Sutton Hoo as part of an act of reverential commemoration. They were brought there to be executed. Fragile, sandy outlines revealed that these individuals were decapitated or hung, with the site of a probable gallows lying at the centre of the group of bodies on the eastern edge of the cemetery. Public execution is known to have been practised in the 9th and 10th centuries, but the Sutton Hoo executions date back earlier, and Carver has wondered whether the magnificent kingly burials under the mounds took place against the backdrop of this ultimate statement of authority.
The most recent excavations were undertaken in 2000, in advance of the construction of a new visitor centre, 500m north of the main site. This revealed eight Anglo Saxon ring ditches, 19 inhumations and 17 cremations. These discoveries were particularly fascinating, as they appear to predate the mound cemetery. A number of the cremations were contained within urns, while one filled a bronze hanging bowl. All of the inhumations were accompanied by grave goods, and in 13 cases these were weapons, normally a shield and spear. One also contained a sword.