Anglo-Saxon Ground Zero

Sutton Hoo, East Anglia Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the film “The Dig,” you might want to catch it before reading on. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix.) But if you must know, Sutton Hoo is called the Valley of the Kings for the Anglo-Saxon rulers of the 7th century. And we know this because of an amazing discovery made there in 1939.

Over 1,400 years ago, a king or great warrior of East Anglia was laid to rest in a 90-foot ship, surrounded by his extraordinary treasures. A large mound covered this enormous tomb and rumors had abounded for centuries as to whether the mounds in this area were actually burial mounds.

Thanks to the perseverance of amateur archeologist Basil Brown and the support of the woman who owned the land, Edith Pretty, the rumors were proven to be true, with the uncovering of the ship and the treasures that showed royalty was buried there. The discovery revolutionized Anglo-Saxon scholarship and provided a window into this era of history. 

The most likely candidate for the man who belonged to this grave is King Rædwald, a great King of East Anglia who won both renown, for his victory over the Kingdom of Northumbria, and criticism, for establishing an altar for Christ and an altar for the old gods side by side.  

The exhibit features reproductions of the most notable finds and recreations of what would have been their original state, including a skeletal recreation of the ship itself. The originals were given by Mrs. Pretty to the British Museum, where we visited them several weeks ago.

It was amazing to see the valley from which the burial ship had been hauled from the River Deben, which was also the path that pilgrims traveled to honor their dead leader.

We spent some time in Mrs. Pretty’s house, where one can actually book bedrooms. It is a charming home, filled with memories of the famous dig.

The grounds are lovely and must be filled with whispers and shadows at night.

I did have one moment of great excitement when I overheard a woman of a certain age telling her companion that she had seen the grave when it was open. My heart stopped. I immediately inserted myself into the conversation to learn more. This lady – we will call her Harriet to protect her privacy – was quite clear about seeing it and having Mrs. Pretty’s son show her school group around. She was quite surprised that the grave still wasn’t open.

But after doing the math and talking to one of the reenactors, it became clear that poor “Harriet” was quite confused and might possibly be thinking of a brief opening in the 1970’s. But it was exciting for a moment to think that I was meeting a witness to this amazing story. We let her go home without disabusing her of her fond recollection.

We will also have fond recollections of this place. “The Dig” is a wonderful introduction to the astonishing discovery made here, but there is something very special about being on the site, and seeing the very landscape that our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (if you claim Anglo-Saxon ancestors) revered and made holy.

3 thoughts on “Anglo-Saxon Ground Zero

  1. I am absolutely over the moon with this visit. I have read about it and seen pictures for years. How exciting to actually be there. The movie is a great interpretation of how all of this came about. A must see.

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