Sutton Hoo’s Treasures Were Likely Crafted at This 1,400-Year-Old Workshop

Archaeologists digging in sediment searching for artifacts at a dig in Rendlesham
Archaeologists search for artifacts at a dig in Rendlesham, where local craftsmen may have made the items found at the Sutton Hoo burial site. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service

Scientists have unearthed the remains of medieval workshops in England where artifacts from the famed Sutton Hoo burial mounds—considered the United Kingdom’s greatest archaeological discovery—may have been created, reports Andrew Levy for the Daily Mail.

Excavated in 1939, the Sutton Hoo burial dates back to the sixth or seventh century C.E. and likely belonged to an Anglo-Saxon king. The grave contained the remains of an 88-foot-long ship and a treasure-filled burial chamber, as reported by Jeanne Dorin McDowell for Smithsonian magazine last year.

Located in Rendlesham, Suffolk, just three miles from the burial ship, this new find includes pit-like foundations likely used for the production of crafts, such as weaving and metalworking, some 1,400 years ago.

Along with a team of volunteers, workers with the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and Cotswold Archaeology found fragments of spindle whorls and loom weights as well as a brooch and buckle made of a copper alloy, per a report in Heritage Daily. They also uncovered melted metal pieces and slag from smelting ore, suggesting craftsmen worked in metal production at the site.

picture of hand holding rusted dirty coin with hole from Roman empire
An ancient Roman coin with a hole drilled in it was discovered at Rendlesham. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service

A Suffolk County Council spokesman tells the Daily Mail that those buried at Sutton Hoo would have “probably lived at Rendlesham.” He added, “There is also evidence of craft working at Rendlesham, so it is possible they may have produced some of the objects discovered in the Sutton Hoo burial grounds.”

The Sutton Hoo find was the subject of the 2021 Netflix film The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James. Based on a 2007 historical novel by John Preston, the movie details the 1939 discovery of the burial ship and artifacts, which were first thought to be Viking. Analysis showed that the site was actually built by residents of medieval Britain and may have included the tomb of King Rædwald of East Anglia, who ruled in the seventh century, reports Sarah Cascone of Artnet News.

According to Smithsonian, the Sutton Hoo discovery changed historians view of Anglo-Saxon Britain, then considered more primitive. The scope and quality of artifacts—now on display at the British Museum—showed that the medieval society was more advanced than first believed.

“The discovery in 1939 changed our understanding of some of the first chapters of English history,” Sue Brunning, a curator of early medieval European collections at the British Museum who oversees the Sutton Hoo artifacts, told Smithsonian. “A time that had been seen as being backward was illuminated as cultured and sophisticated. The quality and quantity of the artifacts found inside the burial chamber were of such technical artistry that it changed our understanding of this period.”

A young boy and woman sitting by hole with digging materials
Students from a local elementary school helped with the dig. Over 150 vounteers assisted archaeologists with the excavations. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service

Since 2008, excavations at the Rendlesham settlement have revealed a trove of treasures. Archaeologists have unearthed jewelry, pottery and other artifacts showing the community’s wealth as a manufacturing and trading center during the medieval period. They also located the remains of a fortress, where King Rædwald and other rulers possibly resided, reports the Daily Mail.

Rendlesham was the “power center of the East Anglian kingdom,” Chris Scull, the project’s principal academic adviser, tells the Daily Mail. “Our excavation has unraveled some of the complexities of this internationally significant site and given us insights into the lives of the people whose farming and craft skills supported the early rulers of the East Anglian kingdom.”

Beginning in 2020, volunteers have been assisting with the dig as part of a community archaeology project, known as Rendlesham Revealed. About 150 people—many of them students and children involved in a local charity—have participated in the effort.

In the most recent excavation, archaeologists and volunteers also discovered pottery vessels used for cooking and storage, as well as bones from butchered cattle, sheep and pigs. In addition, they found a Roman coin dated to between 350 and 355 C.E. with a hole drilled in it, possibly used as a piece of jewelry, per Artnet News.

“Archaeological excavation near Rendlesham is adding to Suffolk’s rich history, with archaeologists uncovering evidence of settlement and community 1,400 years ago at the time of the earliest East Anglian kings,” says Scull in a statement.

Researchers are analyzing the finds, and plan to share their results this spring.

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