Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, is the site of two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries of the 6th century and early 7th century, one of which contained an undisturbed ship burial including a wealth of artifacts of outstanding art-historical and archaeological significance.
Sutton Hoo is of a primary importance to early medieval historians because it sheds light on a period of English history which is on the margin between myth, legend and historical documentation. Use of the site culminated at a time when the ruler (Raedwald) of East Anglia held senior power among the English people, and played a dynamic (if ambiguous) part in the establishment of Christian rulership in England. It is central to understanding of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia and of the period in a wider perspective.
The ship-burial, probably dating from the early 7th century and excavated in 1939, is one of the most magnificent archaeological finds in England for its size and completeness, far-reaching connections, quality and beauty of its contents, and for the profound interest of the burial ritual itself.
Although it is the ship-burial which commands the widest attention from tourists, there is also rich historical meaning in the two separate cemeteries, their position in relation to the Deben estuary and the North Sea, and their relation to other sites in the immediate neighbourhood.
Sutton Hoo is the name of an area spread along the bluffs on the eastern bank of the River Deben opposite the harbour of Woodbridge. The word "hoo" means "spur of a hill." About 7 miles (11 km) from the sea, it overlooks the inland waters of the tidal estuary a little below the lowest convenient fording place. Of the two gravefields found here, one ('the Sutton Hoo cemetery') has always been known to exist because it consists of a group of around 20 earthen burial mounds which rise slightly above the horizon of the hill-spur when viewed from the opposite bank. The other (called here the 'new' burial ground) is situated on a second hill-spur close to the present Exhibition Hall, about 500 m upstream of the first, and was discovered and partially explored in 2000 during preparations for the construction of the Hall. This also had burials under mounds, but was not known because they had long since been flattened by agricultural activity.
Through the Ipswich Museum, in 1938 she obtained the services of Basil Brown, a Suffolk man whose smallholding had failed four years earlier, and who had taken up full-time archaeology on Roman sites for the museum. Pretty took Brown to the site, and suggested that he start digging at Mound 1, one of the largest. The mound had obviously been disturbed, and in consultation with Ipswich Museum Brown decided instead to open three smaller mounds during 1938 with the help of three estate labourers. These did reveal interesting treasures, but only in fragments as the mounds had been robbed.
Mrs Pretty still wanted a full excavation of Mound 1 and, in May 1939, Brown began work helped by the gamekeeper and the gardener. Driving a trench from the east end they soon discovered ship-rivets in position, and the colossal size of the find began to dawn on them. After patient weeks of clearing out earth from within the ship’s hull they reached the burial chamber and realised it was undisturbed. It lay beneath the exact spot where Mrs Pretty had told him to dig a year previously.
In June 1939 Charles Phillips of Cambridge University, hearing rumour of a ship discovery (the 1938 find), visited Ipswich Museum and was taken by Mr Maynard, the Curator, to the site. Staggered by what he now saw, within a short time Phillips, in discussion with the Ipswich Museum, the British Museum, the Science Museum and Office of Works undertook the excavation of the burial chamber. He assembled a team of experts including W.F. Grimes and O.G.S. Crawford (Ordnance Survey), Stuart and Peggy Piggot and others. Basil Brown continued to clear the ship. Mrs Pretty sent Brown to a spiritualist meeting in Woodbridge, where the medium had an intimation of his discovery.
The need for secrecy and various vested interests led to confrontation between Phillips and the Ipswich Museum. The museum's Honorary President, Reid Moir F.R.S., had been a founder of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia in 1908, and the Curator, Mr Maynard, was its Secretary and Editor from 1921. In 1935–6 Charles Phillips and his friend (Sir) Grahame Clark had taken control of the Society. Mr Maynard then turned his attention to developing Brown’s work for the Museum. Phillips (hostile towards Moir) had now reappeared, and he deliberately excluded Moir and Maynard from the new discovery.
The whole excavation was overshadowed by the imminence of war with Germany. The finds, having been packed and removed to London, were brought back for a treasure trove inquest held in the autumn at Sutton village hall, where it was decided that since the treasure was buried without the intention to recover it, it was the property of Mrs Pretty as landowner.
Pretty decided to bequeath the treasure as a gift to the whole nation, so that the meaning and excitement of her discovery could be shared by everyone.
Unusually Sutton Hoo had remained largely untouched by treasure seekers since the burial. In medieval times the site had been divided by boundary ditches to form fields. One of those ditches cut across the western side of Mound 1, giving it a lopsided appearance. A pit dug in the 16th century had been sunk at the apparent centre, missing the real centre and the burial deposit by a narrow margin.
Fifth century artefacts, including late Roman belt equipment and early continental brooches, have been found at Shottisham (south of Sutton Hoo). A little way south of Woodbridge the tidal Martlesham Creek emerges into the Deben on the west side, fed from valleys with 6th century burial grounds at Rushmere, Little Bealings and Tuddenham St Martin, and circling Brightwell Heath, the site of several Bronze Age and later mounds. Further up the Deben, on bluffs overlooking the brackish reaches, were cemeteries of similar date at Rendlesham and Ufford. A large cemetery of mixed cremation and inhumation burials stood in a similar position to Sutton Hoo at Snape, above the fordable headwaters of the river Alde, somewhat further from the river. This also contained a large ship-burial, the only other burial in England comparable to the famous examples at Sutton Hoo.
Within thirty years after the use of the Sutton Hoo cemetery culminated in the ship-burial, an important early monastery was founded by royal grant at Iken beside the Alde in 654 for Saint Botolph. In c 660 Rendlesham is definitely identified by Bede as the site of a vicus regius (royal dwelling) of King Aethelwold of the Wuffinga dynasty of the East Angles. A similar use is suggested at an earlier date, though Kingston near Woodbridge (nearly opposite Sutton Hoo) is another possibility. Rendlesham has a church dedication to Gregory the Great, founder of the Roman Christian mission to England which arrived in Kent in 597.
By the early tenth century the entire region between the Orwell and the watersheds of the Alde and Deben rivers was known as the 'Wicklaw'. It is suggested that this represents an early administrative region or regio, originally centred upon Rendlesham or Sutton Hoo as the node of estuarine control, and was one of the primary components in the formation of the Kingdom of East Anglia. Also in the early 7th century Gipeswic (Ipswich), at the fordable headwaters of the Orwell estuary, began its growth as the primary centre for maritime trade in East Anglia, with Rhineland contacts, so that the instruments and resources of royal power were focussed in this immediate neighbourhood. Jon Newman has made the archaeological survey of this region a special study (the East Anglian Kingdom project), and Keith Wade has spearheaded the Ipswich Excavation Project since 1974 for Suffolk County Council.
A substantial part of the gravefield has not been disturbed in modern times, but is reserved for the benefit of future investigators and future scientific methods.
Of the two cremations excavated in 1938 Mound 3 contained the ashes of a man and a horse placed on a wooden trough or dugout bier, together with an iron-headed throwing-axe (a Frankish weapon). The grave also contained objects imported from the eastern Mediterranean area, including a bronze ewer (lid only), part of a miniature carved plaque depicting a winged Victory, and fragments of decorated bone from a casket of similar origin. The other, Mound 4, was the cremation of a man and a woman with a horse and perhaps also a dog. This included a few fragments of bone gaming-pieces.
In Mounds 5, 6 and 7 Professor Carver found three cremations deposited in bronze bowls with a variety of goods. The man in Mound 5 had died from weapon blows to the skull. With him some gaming-pieces, small iron shears, a cup and an ivory box with sliding lid had escaped the looters' attention. Mound 7 was the remains of a grand cremation, in which horse, cattle, red deer, sheep and pig had been burnt with the deceased on the pyre. His goods had included gaming-pieces, an iron-bound bucket, a sword-belt fitting and a drinking vessel. Mound 6, similarly, was accompanied by cremated animals, gaming-pieces, a sword-belt fitting and a comb. The Mound 18 grave was very damaged, but of similar kind.
One urned and one unurned cremation were found during the 1960s exploration to define the extent of Mound 5, together with two inhumations and a pit with a skull and fragment of decorative foil. In level areas between the mounds Professor Carver found three furnished inhumations (not of execution victims). One under a small mound held a child's body with a buckle and a miniature spear. The grave of a man included two belt-buckles and a knife, and that of a woman contained a leather bag, a ring-headed pin and a chatelaine.
Most impressive of the burials not contained in a chamber is the Mound 17 grave of a young man and his horse. They were in fact two separate grave-hollows side by side under a single mound, and were undisturbed (looters had dug over the intervening baulk). The man was buried in an oak coffin with his pattern welded sword at his right side. The sword-belt was wrapped around the blade, with a bronze buckle with garnet cellwork, two pyramidal strapmounts and a scabbard-buckle. By his head were a strike-a-light and a leather pouch containing rough garnets and a piece of millefiori glass. Around the coffin were two spears, a shield, a small cauldron and bronze bowl, a pot and an iron-bound bucket. Some animal ribs were probably a food offering. In the north-west corner of the man's grave was the bridle for the horse, mounted with circular gilt bronze plaques bearing deftly-controlled interlace ornament. These are displayed in the Exhibition Hall at Sutton Hoo.
Inhumation graves containing a man and horse together, signifying an equestrian role, are known from England and Germanic Europe. Most are of the sixth or early seventh century. Two Suffolk examples have been excavated at Lakenheath in western Suffolk, and another found in c 1820 is recorded from Witnesham near Ipswich. There is an example in the Snape cemetery. Others are inferred from records of the discovery of horse furniture in cemetery contexts at Eye and Mildenhall. Presumably the horse was sacrificed for the funeral. The ritual is sufficiently standardised to indicate that it reflects formal status rather than sentimental attachment.
Although this grave had been destroyed almost completely by robbing (apparently during a heavy rainstorm), it had contained exceptionally high quality goods belonging to a woman. These included a chatelaine, a kidney-shaped purse lid, a bowl, several buckles, a dress-fastener and the hinges of a casket, all made of silver, and also a fragment of embroidered cloth.
This extremely important grave, very damaged by looters, was excavated in 1938 by Basil Brown. It was probably the source of the many iron ship-rivets found in 1860. Brown, having found similar rivets dispersed in the mound, interpreted the burial as a small boat with square stern containing the grave deposit (by comparison with the Snape find). Professor Carver's very thorough re-investigation revealed that this was essentially a rectangular plank-lined chamber, 5 m long by 2 m wide, sunk below the land surface with the body and grave-goods laid out in it. A ship (probably a smaller version of the Snape or Sutton Hoo Mound 1 type) was then placed over it, aligned east and west, before a large earth mound was raised above the whole.
Chemical analysis of the chamber floor suggested the presence of a body in the south-western corner. The goods, although very fragmentary, included an English blue glass cup with trailed decoration (like those from various English chamber-graves) (including the new find at Prittlewell, Essex), two gilt-bronze discs with animal interlace ornament, a bronze brooch, a silver buckle, a gold-coated stud from a buckle and other items. Four objects (apart from the boat) have a special kinship to those from the Mound 1 ship-burial. The tip of a swordblade showed elaborate pattern-welding similar to the Mound 1 sword: silver-gilt drinking horn mounts were struck from the same dies as the Mound 1 horn-mounts: and two fragments of dragonlike mounts or plaques probably derived from a large shield of Vendel type, similar to the Mound 1 shield. Although the rituals were not identical, the association of these objects and the ship in this grave shows an immediate connection between the two burials.
In contrast to the high status evident from these finds, the cemetery also contained a number of inhumations of a very different character. These were of people who had died by violent means, in some cases clearly by hanging or beheading. Often the bones had not survived, but this important part of the site's history was recovered by a special technique during the 1980s excavations. The fleshy parts of the bodies had left a stain in the sandy soil: this was laminated as work progressed, so that finally the emaciated figures of the dead were revealed. Casts were taken of several of these tableaux.
The identification and discussion of these burials has been led by Professor Carver. Two main groups were excavated, one arranged around Mound 5, and the other beyond the barrow cemetery limits in the field to the east. It is thought that a gallows stood on Mound 5, a prominently visible position near a significant river-crossing point, and that these were victims of judicial execution. The executions are evidently later than Mound 5, and possibly date mostly from the 8th and 9th centuries.
Along the inner west wall (i.e. the head end) at the north-west corner stood a tall iron stand with a grid near the top. Beside this rested a very large circular shield. The central boss was mounted with garnets and with die-pressed plaques of interlaced animal ornament. The shield front displayed two large emblems with garnet settings, one a composite metal predatory bird and the other a long gilt casting of a flying dragon. It also bore animal-ornamented sheet strips directly die-linked to examples from the early cemetery at Vendel near Old Uppsala in Sweden. A small bell, possibly for an animal (?hound), lay nearby.
At the centre of the wall was a long square-sectioned whetstone tapered at either end and carved with human faces on each side. A ring mount topped by a bronze antlered stag figurine was fixed to the upper end, theorised to have been made to resemble a late Roman consular sceptre. The sceptre has resulted in some debate and an amount of theories, some of which pointing to the potential Anglo-Saxon religious significance of the stag.South of this was an iron-bound wooden bucket, one of several in the grave.
In the south-west corner was a complex containing objects which may have hung upon the chamber wall, but were found compressed together. Lowest was a Coptic or eastern Mediterranean bronze bowl with drop handles and chased with figures of animals. Above this (badly deformed) was a six-stringed Anglo-Saxon lyre in a beaver-skin bag, of a Germanic type found in wealthy Anglo-Saxon and north European graves of this date. Uppermost was a large and exceptionally elaborate three-hooked hanging bowl of Insular production, with champleve enamel and millefiori mounts showing fine-line spiral ornament and red cross motifs, and with an enamelled metal fish mounted to swivel on a pin within the bowl.
At the east end of the chamber stood (near the north corner) an iron-bound tub of yew with a smaller bucket within. To the south were two small bronze cauldrons, one globular and one concave-sided, probably hanging against the wall. A large carinated bronze cauldron, similar to the example from a chamber-grave at Taplow, with iron mounts and two ring-handles was hung by one handle at the centre. Nearby lay a chain almost 3.5 m long of complex ornamental sections and wrought links, for the suspension of such a cauldron from the beams of a large hall. All these items were of a domestic character.
On the head's left side was placed the 'crested' and masked helmet, wrapped in cloths. With its historiated die-struck panels and assembled mounts this is directly comparable to the helmets of the Vendel and Valsgärde cemeteries of eastern Sweden, although differing in that the dome is constructed in a single vaulted shell (and therefore not strictly a spangenhelm) and in having a full mask. Although very like the Swedish examples it is a superior production. Helmets are extremely rare finds, and no other example from England is of this type with panels depicting warrior scenes, with the exception of a fragment from a burial at Caenby, Lincolnshire. The helmet rusted in the grave and was shattered into hundreds of fragments when the chamber roof collapsed.
To the head's right was placed inverted a nested set of ten silver bowls, probably made in the Eastern Empire during the sixth century. Beneath them were two silver spoons, possibly from Byzantium itself, of a type bearing names of the Apostles. One spoon is marked in original nielloed Greek lettering with the name of PAVLOC, 'Paul'. The other, matching spoon has been modified using lettering conventions of a Frankish coin-die cutter, to read CAVLOC, 'Saul'. A disputed theory suggests that the spoons and possibly also the bowls formed a baptismal gift for the buried person, alluding to the Damascene conversion of Saint Paul (Acts Ch. 9 & 13.9).
Together with the sword harness and scabbard mounts, the gold and garnet objects found in the upper body space are among the true wonders of Sutton Hoo. Their artistic and technical quality is quite exceptional. They form a co-ordinated ensemble thought to have been produced for this wearer as patron.
Each shoulder-clasp consists of two matching curved halves, hinged upon a long removable chained pin. The surfaces display panels of interlocking stepped garnets and chequer millefiori insets, surrounded by interlaced ornament of Germanic Style II ribbon animals. The half-round clasp ends contain garnet-work of interlocking boars with filigree surrounds. On the underside of the mounts are lugs for attachment to a stiff leather cuirass. The function of the clasps is to hold together the front and back halves of such armour so that it can fit the torso closely in the Roman manner. The cuirass itself, possibly worn in the grave, did not survive. No other Anglo-Saxon cuirass clasps are known.
The 'great' gold buckle is made in three parts. The plate is a long ovoid of meandering but symmetrical outline with densely interwoven and interpenetrating Style II ribbon animals rendered in chip-carving on the front. The gold surfaces are punched to receive niello detail. The plate is hollow and has a hinged back, forming a secret chamber possibly for a relic. Both the tongue-plate and hoop are solid, ornamented, and expertly engineered. Garnet is not employed in this object.
The purse, with ornamental lid covering a lost leather pouch, hung from the waist-belt. The lid consists of a kidney-shaped cellwork frame enclosing a sheet of horn, on which were mounted pairs of exquisite garnet cellwork plaques depicting predatory birds, wolves devouring men, geometric motifs, and a double panel showing horses or animals with interlaced extremities. The maker derived these images from the ornament of the Swedish-style helmets and shield-mounts. In his work they are transferred into the cellwork medium with dazzling technical and artistic virtuosity.
These are therefore the work of a master-goldsmith of his age who had access to an East Anglian armoury containing the objects used as pattern sources. As an ensemble they enabled the patron to appear in an imperial persona, and expressed his authority and resources to do so.
Within the purse were contained 37 gold shillings or tremisses, each from a different Frankish mint and therefore deliberately formed as a collection. There were also three blank coins and two small ingots. This has prompted various explanations. Possibly like the Roman obolus they were to pay the forty ghostly oarsmen in the afterworld, or were a funeral tribute, or an expression of allegiance. They provide the (debated) primary evidence for the date of the burial, probably in the third decade of the 7th century.
Over the whole of this, perched on top of the heaps (or their container, if there was one) lay a very large round silver platter with chased ornament, made in the Eastern Empire in around 500 AD and bearing the control stamps of Emperor Anastasius I (491–518). On this plate was deposited a piece of unburnt bone of uncertain derivation.
The assemblage of Mediterranean silverware in the Sutton Hoo grave is unique for this period in Britain and Europe.
Long after the mound was raised the westerly end of it was dug away when a mediaeval boundary ditch was laid out. Therefore when looters dug into the apparent centre during the sixteenth century they missed the real centre: nor could they have foreseen that the deposit lay very deep in the belly of a buried ship, well below the level of the land surface. Great pains had been taken to ensure that it remained undisturbed for a very long time.
Attention was first attracted to this area by the chance discovery of a rare imported artefact of eastern Mediterranean origin of the 6th century. It is part of a vessel of thin beaten bronze with vertical sides, made to contain beverage. The outer surface is decorated with a frieze of Syrian or 'Nubian' style depicting naked warriors carrying swords and shields in combat with leaping lions, executed by punch-marking. Above the frieze and below the rim is a zone of inscription in Greek lettering which translates 'Use this in good health, Master Count, for many happy years.' This is very likely to have derived from a furnished burial.
In an area near to Mrs Pretty's former rose garden a group of moderate-sized burial mounds was identified. The mounds had long since been levelled, but their position was shown by circular surrounding ditches. At the centre of each was a small deposit indicating the presence of a single burial, probably of unurned human ashes.
This burial lay in an irregular ovate pit which contained two vessels. One was a stamped black earthenware urn of late 6th century type. The other was a large bronze hanging bowl in excellent condition, with openwork hook escutcheons (without enamel) and a related circular mount at the centre of the bowl. The mounts are very similar to an example found at Eastry, Kent (possibly a 7th century royal dwelling).
In this burial a man was laid out with a spear at his side and a shield of normal size over him. The shield bore two fine metal mounts, one depicting a predatory bird (not unlike the shield from the ship) and the other a thin dragonlike creature, and the boss-stud was also ornamented. The Vendel-type connections with Mound 1 were significant.
During the later 6th century (when the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were in process of formation), two great leaders, Ceawlin of Wessex and Ethelbert of Kent, in turn held dominion over all the rulers south of the River Humber (see Bretwalda). In 597 a mission led by Saint Augustine arrived in Kent and began the first formal conversion of the English rulers and their people to Roman Christianity. Rædwald was baptized in Kent, and (as Ethelbert grew old) he built up the leadership for his own nation of East Angles.
In c 616 he was challenged by the Northumbrian ruler Æthelfrith, and defeated and slew him in a great battle. Rædwald then set Edwin, a royal exile, to rule in Northumbria, and for the remainder of his life Rædwald held supreme rule (imperium) over the English. He was the first southern ruler to hold Northumbria under such allegiance.
Rædwald did not establish unequivocal Christian rule, but at his death Edwin acquired even greater dominion than Rædwald (except in Kent), and was baptized. Through further conversions with Bishop Paulinus in Northumbria, Lindsey and East Anglia under the rule of Eorpwald (Rædwald's son), by cementing Christian alliances with Sigeberht of East Anglia (ruled c 629–636), and by his own marriage to the sister of Eadbald of Kent (ruled c 616–640), Edwin (ruled c 616–632) became the first English ruler with dominion north and south of the Humber in religious obedience to Christian Rome. Edwin is known to have cultivated the public behaviour of a Roman leader.
The question 'Who was in the ship?' is finally unanswerable. But given the exceptionally high quality of the materials (imported and commissioned) and the resources needed to assemble them, the imperial authority which the gold body equipment was intended to convey, the community involvement required in this unusual ritual at a cemetery reserved for an elite, the nearness of Sutton Hoo to a near-contemporary centre of royal power at Rendlesham, and the probable date-horizons, the identification with Rædwald still has widespread popular acceptance. From time to time other identifications are suggested.
It is debated whether the custom of furnished burial was explicitly pagan, or whether it was reaching a natural culmination when Christianity began to make its mark.
Beowulf, the great surviving example of heroic Old English poetry, is set in Denmark and Sweden (mostly Götaland) during the first half of the 6th century. It opens with the funeral of a king in a ship laden with treasure, and has other descriptions of hoards including Beowulf's own mound-burial. Its picture of warrior life in the Hall of the Danish Scylding clan, with formal mead-drinking, minstrel recitation to the lyre and the rewarding of valour with gifts, and the description of a helmet, could all be illustrated from the Sutton Hoo finds. The interpretation of each has a bearing on the other.
Beowulf is a work of heroic lore, not a scholarly history. However, the real eastern Swedish connections of the Sutton Hoo material reinforce this link. The Vendel and Valsgärde graves also include ships (though smaller), similar artefact groups, and many sacrificed animals. Ship-burial at this date is largely confined to east Sweden and East Anglia. The rather earlier mound-burials (without ships) at Old Uppsala, in the same region, have a more direct bearing on the Beowulf story and date-horizon. The Sutton Hoo and the Swedish burials are earlier than the famous Gokstad and Oseberg ship-burials. The inclusion of drinking-horns, lyre, sword and shield, bronze and glass vessels is not untypical of high-status 6th or early 7th century chamber-graves in England. The selection and arrangement of goods in these graves shows a widespread conformity of household possessions and funeral custom among these wealthy people. The Sutton Hoo ship-burial is a uniquely-elaborated version of the ritual, of exceptional quality, with the addition of the regalia and instruments of power, and with Scandinavian connections more direct than the general overlap between English and north continental art of the period.
A possible explanation for these Swedish connections lies in the well-attested northern custom by which the children of leading men were often brought up not at home, but by some distinguished friend or relative. In this way, at a royal level, a future East Anglian potentate fostered in Sweden could have acquired very high quality objects of Swedish type, and have made the necessary contacts with those armourers, before returning to Britain to assume his inheritance.
Sam Newton draws together the Sutton Hoo and Beowulf links with the Raedwald identification, and using genealogical data argues that the Wuffing dynasty derived from the Geatish Wulfing house mentioned in Beowulf and the poem Widsith. Possibly the oral materials from which Beowulf was assembled belonged to East Anglian royal tradition, and they and the ship-burial took shape together as heroic restatements of migration-age origins.
Professor Carver argues that pagan East Anglian rulers responded to the encroachment of Roman Christendom by ever more elaborate cremation rituals to express defiance and independence. The execution victims, if not human sacrifices for the ship-burial, perhaps suffered for dissent from the cult of Christian royalty. The executions may coincide in date with the period of Mercian dominion in East Anglia (c 760–825).
From the gathering together of such possessions, and the combination or transformation of their themes and techniques in new productions, the synthesis of Insular art emerges. Drawing on Irish, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon, native British and Mediterranean artistic sources, Insular art is a fusion more complex than the purely Anglo-Irish expressed by "Hiberno-Saxon" art. The 7th century Book of Durrow, first survival of the gospel-book series including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, owes as much to Pictish sculpture, to British millefiori and enamelwork and Anglo-Saxon cloisonné metalwork, as to Irish art.
This fusion in the Sutton Hoo treasury and workshop precedes the (often royal) religious context of the scriptoria. There is thus a continuum from pre-Christian royal accumulation of precious objects from diverse cultural sources, through to the art of gospel-books, shrines and liturgical or dynastic objects in which those elements were blended. It is a parallel expression of the formation of English and Insular cultural identity, and the dissemination of royal values. That is part of the fascination of Sutton Hoo.