Archaeology breakthrough as identity behind UK’s ‘most magnificent war grave’ unmasked | UK | News (Reports)


Known as Sutton Hoo, the site in Woodbridge, Suffolk, was at the centre of an incredible discovery in 1939 when an Anglo-Saxon burial was found. Archaeologist Basil Brown discovered two early Medieval cemeteries on the property of Edith Pretty that dated from the sixth to the seventh centuries. Inside one was an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of treasure, including a ceremonial helmet now held at the British Museum.

And, as Netflix is poised to release its new film ‘The Dig,’ depicting the incredible excavation, curator of Early Medieval Europe Collections at the museum, Dr Sue Brunning, spoke to

She said: “The person buried at Sutton Hoo was buried with a whole array of magnificent war gear. It’s the most magnificent war grave that’s ever been discovered in Britain.

“There are a few things that are unique – the helmet is very unusual. That in itself is important. 

“There was also a coat of armour that suggests this person was very high status. It wasn’t accessible to other people.”

And, incredibly, Dr Brunning has been able to get a unique insight into the artefact’s owner.

She said: “There was also a sword found in the ship burial and this is something I’ve studied myself. The handle features a really beautiful pommel.

“My study of that weapon suggested to me that the way it was worn down, the deterioration, the person who carried it may have been left-handed – based on how the sword would be worn on the body. 

“I think that is amazing. This person’s remains didn’t even survive in the burial, but we are still able to get some personal insights into who they were based on the objects.” 

Unfortunately, there was no body found at the grave, which led to early speculation over whether the Sutton Hoo ship burial was actually a cenotaph.

READ MORE: Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ startles expert as iconic Sutton Hoo excavation ‘comes to life’

But Dr Brunning is now sure there was once an inhabitant. 

She added: “There is a big gap where we would expect a body to be. There is a human-sized gap between the objects.

“Also scientific analysis showed there may have been a degree of remains in the area.

“In this part of Suffolk the soil is so acidic and water would have got into the burial, creating almost an acid bath. Human remains won’t survive.

“I’m pretty happy someone was buried there.”

Some scholars have tipped King Raedwald of East Anglia to have been the grave’s owner.

Details about his reign are scarce, primarily because the Viking invasions of the ninth century destroyed the monasteries in East Anglia where many documents would have been kept.

And while Dr Brunning believes it is possible, she can’t be 100 percent sure without this evidence.

She continued: “We are at a time in history before there were written records, we can’t know for sure.

“But we can tell quite a lot from the archaeology. We can see a huge quantity of grave goods and the quality of them. 

“We can see this is somebody who was significant and important enough to be honoured with such a burial.

“The nature of the burial – the fact they were buried in a 27-metre-long ship – it would have taken a lot of labour and time so it was probably a big ceremonial event marked with a big mound to show this person’s place in the landscape.

“All of these things combined together show us this was somebody very important. The traditional view is it may have been a local king of East Anglia – I don’t know if it was him, but we can tell it was somebody very important.”

The new Netflix release is directed by Simon Stone and based on the 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston.

It will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday, January 29. 

The cast is led by Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, who plays Mrs Pretty. 

Ralph Fiennes takes on the role of Mr Brown – a self-taught archaeologist who has to fight to continue work on excavating the ship he found.


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