Visitors at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, the site of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made, will witness the transformation that has brought to life the story of an Anglo-Saxon King’s ship burial and his treasures.
In 1938, local landowner Mrs Edith Pretty called in archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a series of mysterious mounds of earth on her estate near Woodbridge.
What he uncovered the following year, on the eve of the Second World War, made headline news - the 1,300-year old ship burial of a man believed to be Anglo-Saxon King Rædwald, along with his possessions including his helmet, gold belt buckle, sword and shield.
The discovery revolutionised historians’ understanding of the 7th century and revealed that a time previously seen as dark and insular was in fact cultured, sophisticated and vibrant.
Now, the various elements of this story are being re-told in a £4 million reinterpretation project by the National Trust which offers new installations, immersive experiences and routes through the landscape.
Visitors are greeted in the Courtyard with a full-size, 27-metre long sculpture representing the burial ship, whilst the Exhibition Hall and the former home of Edith Pretty, Tranmer House, have both been transformed. Along with these, a new route through the landscape reconnects the stories and people associated with the ship and its discovery with the Royal Burial Ground itself.
Within Tranmer House, the focus is on the pre-War excavations and others since, offering the chance to absorb the atmosphere of the discovery as it unfolded. Recorded interviews, vintage projections, extracts of diaries, letters and newspapers, along with photographs of the 1939 dig – including the first colour photographs from an archaeological excavation – aim to immerse visitors in the story before they follow a new route from the house to the Royal Burial Ground beyond.
Important original items also tell their own stories in Tranmer House including one of the first ship rivets unearthed, which alerted Basil Brown to the fact that something significant lay beneath his feet.
In the Exhibition Hall, dramatic new displays showcase finely-crafted replicas of the glittering treasures, now in London’s British Museum, that were buried with the King to accompany his journey into the afterlife.
Original pieces from later digs are also displayed, such as items from the 1991 excavation which uncovered a warrior and his horse buried with objects including bowls, a sword and a comb.
The Hall also offers a window on the world of the Anglo-Saxons, through the eyes of various characters, using film, sound and displays to explore their culture, food, trade, rituals and the skilled craftsmanship used to produce the many items discovered.
The final part of the project, a 17-metre high observation tower, will be opened soon to offer birds-eye views across the Royal Burial Ground to the wider landscape.
The National Trust’s project at Sutton Hoo was funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and many other donors and supporters.
Details of the opening times for Sutton Hoo www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-hoo
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