The unfolding of the story of this lost culture didn’t end in 1939 though; since then, many more wonderful treasures have been found, and older ones have been re-discovered. Here are some more treasures from Britain from the time of Sutton Hoo you might not have heard of, in no particular order, and, where you can see them.
The Taplow Princely Burial
The amazing finds included a wonderfully garnet and filigree-decorated gold buckles and clasps, no less than 19 feasting vessels including four large glass beakers, two huge jewelled drinking horns and various other decorated drinking vessels, buckets and cauldrons, a sword, two shields, three spears, a set of gaming pieces, and approximately 2.5m of woven metallic gold trim from the edge of a coat or cloak. Like Sutton Hoo the burial also contained a wonderful lyre, with bird fittings and horn inlay.
Where to See: Although many were damaged during the dig, but the most spectacular and best-preserved treasures are on display in the early Medieval room at the British Museum, London, alongside the treasures from Sutton Hoo.
Relics of St. Cuthbert
Cuthbert had many adventures after he died; his body was found within its coffin to be perfectly preserved after 11 years, resulting in him becoming the focus of a posthumous cult and shrine where miracles continued to be reported. In the decades and centuries that followed, offerings continued to be added to his relics, which were rescued by the fleeing monks when the Vikings took Lindisfarne in 875, thence touring various churches, residing at Chester-le-Street until 995, then going to Ripon, and eventually Durham. During the construction of a new shrine for Cuthbert in Durham in 1104, the casket was opened and a perfectly preserved but very small 7-8th century book was found, likely having been sequestered by a devoted follower of Cuthbert as an offering shortly after he died.
Where to See: The Cuthbert Gospel is kept at The British Library, London though rarely on public display; you can explore a digital copy here.
The other relics of St Cuthbert, including the cross, are displayed at Durham Cathedral.
Where to See: The Hunterston Brooch, together with many other related finds, are displayed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The Avon Valley Queen
In 1934 an excavation near the Alveston Manor Hotel in Stratford uncovered remains of around 64 burials, including one of an elderly woman with a unique assemblage of dress items. On her shoulders she wore highly unusual examples of otherwise quite common animal-art decorated gilded saucer brooches – unusually with central buttons (actually versions of the tiny, exclusively southern “button brooch”) inside (shown above). She had a ringer-ring of coiled silver, a swag of polished amber and rare blue glass beads, a set of toilet-implements for her belt, a penannular brooch possibly for her veil or shawl, and most impressively, a truly enormous, 21cm long “great square headed brooch” – one of, if not the largest ever found in the UK.
The wearing of such an enormous and flashy brooch by the occupant of the grave (if indeed she did wear it in life) would have marked the wearer out as someone of great importance, and for this valuable object to be sacrificed - placed in her grave rather than inherited and kept in use - must surely have been a huge mark of respect for her, by her community. The wearer of these amazing objects was likely a long-lived matriarch, perhaps the wife of a chieftain or even, for a time, a community leader in her own right, with influence across the south Midlands, and who may have been alive to witness the beginning of the folding of this region into the new kingdom of Mercia. This grave assemblage stands head and shoulders above anything else that has been found in the region, and for this reason we call her the Queen of the Avon Valley.
Where to See: The finds from Alverston Manor are kept in the secure vaults of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and not on public display. Items from other 6th century noblewomen’s burials from these communities can be seen at the Almonry Museum in Evesham, and the Market Hall Museum in Warwick.
The Franks Casket
Where to See: The pieces Franks collected were put back together with a cast copy of the bargello fragment, with the casket proudly displayed in the Early Medieval room of The British Museum, alongside the Sutton Hoo finds and others.
The Staffordshire Hoard
Most of the material in the Staffordshire Hoard is of the highest quality of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship, comparable to the finest items in Sutton Hoo Mound 1, and much of it (particularly the garnet cloisonné work) may have originated from the same workshop. However, the Hoard is more diverse in style and dating, with the manufacture of the pieces spanning around 550-650 CE, so was collected over a long period of time – the gathered loot from many different military campaigns. Unusually it contains no feminine treasure whatsoever, in stark contrast to finds from cemeteries. Analysis of the garnets from the Hoard revealed that the larger almandines originated from India, demonstrating the connectedness of the early Anglo-Saxons to far-reaching trade networks.
The Hoard represents the enormous wealth and sophistication of the accoutrements of the warriors of early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, who advertised their skill in battle (and intimidated their enemies) by displaying their wealth gained through warfare in the form of impressive, ostentatious wargear. The giving of such gear also served to bind the loyalty of warriors to their leaders.
Where to See: An enormous collection of finds, the Staffordshire Hoard is divided between multiple venues. The largest portions can be viewed at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Birmingham, and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Other pieces, and replicas, are displayed at Tamworth Castle and Lichfield Cathedral. The world's largest collection of Staffordshire Hoard replicas, presented reassembled and in context, can occasionally be seen at Thegns of Mercia living history events.
The excavations uncovered 69 sunken-feature buildings (houses and/or barns built into, or over, a pit), a further 7 post-hole buildings probably representing communal village halls (varying around 8x4m), areas reserved for various crafts and industries, animal pens, and small boundary ditches. Tools and other finds associated with craft-working (including weaving, potting, bone and antler-working) were particularly abundant at the site informing our understanding of Anglo-Saxon crafts, and both botanical and animal remains have provided invaluable insights into the Anglo-Saxon diet, agricultural practice and animal husbandry.
Although a settlement of at least 76 buildings sounds quite large, in fact, many of the buildings were not contemporaneous, instead having been continually abandoned or burned down, and then re-built - a pattern seen on other sites. It might be that Anglo-Saxon communities regularly dismantled, and then re-built their houses, getting rid of old thatch, rotten beams, and vermin, as a way of keeping the dwellings fresh, safe and healthy. As a result the remains represent multiple generations of houses belonging to a small community of perhaps fewer than 10 families.
Where to See: Experimental reconstructions of some of the buildings began to be constructed at West Stow from the 1970s onwards, and the site now boasts a small reconstructed village “West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village”, with various cottages and a modest hall, while the visitors centre includes a museum where many of the finds from both the cemetery and village excavations are displayed.
Where to See: The Beowulf manuscript Cotton Vitellius A. xv. is housed at The British Library in London. Oral performances of Beowulf, contextualised with the material culture of the Early Anglo-Saxons, can occasionally be experienced at Thegns of Mercia events and hall-nights.
Mounds of the Peak District
Where to See: Bateman’s finds, including the Benty Grange helmet, are displayed at Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. The new interpretation of the helmet, together with reproductions of other finds from these mounds form part of educational displays at Thegns of Mercia events.
The Orkney Hood
One utterly unique example of such a find was uncovered near a farm in Tankerness, Orkney, in 1867; a fringed, woven woollen hood, almost perfectly preserved in a peat bog, where the anaerobic conditions prevented its decay. The hood appears to have been made for a child, and has been radiocarbon-dated to 250-615 CE.
This amazing survivor is a priceless example of an actual, intact item of clothing, perhaps made for and worn by a Pitcish child on Orkney over 1400 years ago, and the weaving technology demonstrated – strongly comparable to techniques evidenced among remains in early Anglo-Saxon cemetery finds – is suggestive of a relatively well-shared textile-making culture throughout Migration-Period Britain.
Where to See: The Orkney Hood is on display at the National Museuem of Scotland, Edinburgh.
The Lichfield Gospels
Amazing examples of this art include the literally golden pages of the Stockholm Codex Aureus, the riot of colour of the Lindisfarne Gospels, and the fractal beauty of the Books of Durrow and Kells. Scholarly debate continues as to where some of these most lively examples originated – whether the Columban monasteries of Ireland (eg. Kells), Scotland (Iona) or the North of England (Durham).
Its doubtful that the Lichfield Gospels originated in Wales; later illuminated manuscripts with possible Welsh origins include the Hereford Gospels (later 8th century) and the Ricemarsh Psalter (11th century) and are different in style. Instead, the Lichfield Gospels appear to have been made in a northern or central English scriptorium (perhaps Lichfield itself) or else in Ireland. Nevertheless, the journey of the manuscript into Wales and back to Lichfield, picking up some Old Welsh along the way, establishes the Lichfield Gospels not just as a treasure for the Midlands but also for Wales, whose kingdoms, as Bede records, were powerful and influential in the 6-8th centuries, yet remain relatively invisible in the period’s archaeology.
Where to See: The Lichfield Gospels are displayed at Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield, Staffordshire, alongside a rare example of middle Anglo-Saxon figural stone-carving (the Lichfield Angel) and some items of the Staffordshire Hoard. A digital edition of the Lichfield Gospels is viewable online.
Prittlewell Princely Burial
The chamber, built of timbers, was approximately four square meters in size, with a wooden coffin at one side, and the various grave goods arranged around the remaining space, with some originally having been hung on the walls. The finds included a sword, shield, spear with carved shaft, elaborate lyre, hanging bowl, Coptic bronze basin, painted wooden box containing a silver communion spoon, stave-built buckets, glass vessels, remains of an elaborately decorated drinking horn and various other cups and vessels, a unique iron folding stool, and a wooden game-board with bone playing pieces. Within what had been the coffin was found a fine buckle fabricated from sheet gold, in the waist area, smaller buckles likely to have been for garters / shoe straps at the lower legs, and over the eyes were two small gold-foil crosses – a practice otherwise unknown in Britain but reminiscent of similar foil crosses from Italy- which might indicate that the occupant was an early convert to Christianity, although the rest of the burial appears to be pagan in nature.
Where to See: A selection of the finds from the Prittlewell Princely Burial are currently displayed at Southend Central Museum, Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
Palatial Great-Hall Complexes
- Yeavering / Ad Gefrin - Northumbria. A buttressed and aisled great hall, and its subsequent replacement(s) built over the same footprint, together with ancillary buildings including a possible pagan temple, and a unique timber amphitheatre-like structure / Cuneus. (18x8 – 30x10m).
- Sutton Courtnay, Oxfordshire. An aisled great hall (30x10m) with at least one sunken-feature building nearby- likely to be the site of a royal vill established by King Ine of Wessex in the early 8th century. Likely a seat of power for the kings of Wessex.
- Cowedery’s Down, Basing, Berkshire. A probable 8th century great hall (21x10m) with unusual double-bulwarked walls, surrounded by sixteen earlier-dated buildings of the 6-7th centuries. Likely a seat of power for the kings of Wessex.
- Lyminge, Folkestone, Kent. Associated with a church established by a Kentish princess and former Northumbrian queen in 633, 2012-19 excavations here found not only remains of the original church, and a number of burials, but also a great hall complex containing fragments of Anglo-Saxon gold jewellery, combs, and Roman glass. Likely to have been a major seat of power for the kings of Kent.
- Rendlesham, Suffolk. Known to have been the seat of power of the East Anglian court including those buried at Sutton Hoo, investigations of Rendlesham in 2016 identified the remains of a royal hall complex (23x9m) together with a scattering of fine high status 6-7th century jewellery comparable to the material culture seen at the royal burial ground.
- Atcham/Attingham, Shropshire. Seemingly too far west to have been a centre of early Anglo-Saxon power, excavations here in 2018 uncovered the remains of two great halls, arranged end-to-end, between the Roman and post-Roman town of Wroxeter and the early medieval town of Shrewsbury, and timbers were radiocarbon dated to the 7th century, with finds including loom weights and sherds of late Roman pottery.
Where to See: There’s little to see at these sites, many of which are on private land, and no reconstruction of an early Anglo-Saxon aisled great-hall has ever been undertaken. Perhaps one day, with enough enthusiasm for this period’s rich history, that might change?
Did any of these finds surprise you? Did your favourite treasure make the list? Comment and let us know!