Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sutton Hoo visit

I went on a weekend trip to Suffolk and just had to drop into Sutton Hoo on the way back, it turned out to be a very good idea. The site and visitor centre has had more than 3 million pounds of lottery money spent on it in the last few years, and the results are fantastic!
Here is the famous masked helmet of who they think was the High king of East Anglia, the design has been heavily influenced by Swedish and late Roman styles, worth noting is that the bowl of the helmet has been hammered from one piece of iron and not made from pieces joined together......amazing skill and craftmanship. Of course, this is just a replica but it is a very good one at that.
This is how the dead king was laid out in his cabin, in his ship, in his mound.As we can see he has his armour at hand and a gaming board for the long journey to the after life. Also at his feet is something to drink...well, it could be a long journey.

Here is another look at that stunning masked helmet; the detail is amazing. Note the Dragon on the face biting a serpent, its wings are the eyebrows and it's tail makes the moustashe. The ends of the wings are tipped with boar heads, an animal renowned for its fighting prowess. In fact the whole piece is covered in symbols of fighting figures, some very Celtic in design.I recommend dropping in on Sutton Hoo if your in the area, if your lucky, you might even get a brilliant tour guide called Tony.


Scutatus said...

oh WOW!

That is FANTASTIC! I've seen the real deal and it's reconstruction in the British Museum, but both were secure behind glass. I could only dream of seeing the helmet so close, so well, and getting such good pictures. This is so much better!

The helmet is beautiful, a real work of art. Hundreds of years of development in Roman helmet design blended perfectly with Scandinavian-german style. This is truly a masterpiece, a pinnacle of acheivement in artistry, helmet design and metal working. :D This... this helmet almost reduces me to tears.

I am SO envious of you! :D I would be very VERY interested in seeing the other exhibits and artifacts/reconstructions that you were lucky enough to see at Sutton Hoo. :)

Scutatus said...

More on the helmet and other Sutton Hoo finds:
This extraordinary helmet is very rare; only four helmets dating to the Anglo-Saxon period have been found, Sutton Hoo being the best and most famous.

This particular example is very special. Although roughly dated to the early 7th century it's style can be traced back to the 5th, back to the Late Romans and Romano-Germanics.

The Vendels of pre-Viking Scandinavia and the Late Romans incorprated face masks into their often mass produced helmets; cheek pieces and the metal aventail reflect the same influences, but such ornate artistry and styling as on this helmet could only have been custom made for a very important and rich customer. It is no surprise that the warrior found in the burial site is thought to be a king. It is almost miraculous that we have been able to discover what is almost certainly an artisan's one off masterpiece. Truly we are blessed.

The helmet has panels decorated with interlacing animal, ornamental and heroic scenes, images that were common in the Germanic world at this time. One scene shows two warriors, (Gods?) wearing horned helmets of a style known to be common centuries earlier, holding short swords and down-turned spears. The other shows a mounted warrior trampling a fallen enemy, a theme handed down from the Roman Empire where it had been very popular.

The face-mask is the most remarkable feature of the helmet: it has eye-sockets, eyebrows and a nose, which has two small holes cut in it to allow the wearer to breathe freely.

The bronze eyebrows are inlaid with silver wire and precious stone garnets - another feature that was not unknown in Late Roman/Germanic helmets, although in those cases the stones were normally set somehow in the cap of the helmet (and in my opinion look incredibly ugly for it). Each brow of the Sutton Hoo helmet ends in a gilt-bronze boars-head - a symbol of strength and courage.

Placed against the top of the nose, between the eyebrows, is a gilded dragon-head that lies nose to nose with a similar dragon-head placed at the end of the low crest that runs over the cap. The nose, eyebrows and dragon make up a great bird (or dragon body?) with outstretched wings that flies on the helmet rather like the bird of prey on the shield.

All in all, simply breathtaking. Some scholars have stated that this type of helmet was purely ceremonial - even in the more basic Roman mass produced styles. While it is true that this specific ornate example is unlikely to have been worn in battle (well, would YOU?) I beleive that simpler, less ornamented styles almost certainly were. After all, if the Normans, in battle, could wear helms with simple face masks (precursers to the great helms), why couldn't the Romans and Germans who had just as much knowledge and ability hundreds of years before? Why waste that knowledge and ability on parade grounds? It makes no sense.

The shield and sword this helmet was discovered with are also of great interest.

Shield findings are generally both exciting and frustrating in equal measure. Often nothing remains of shields except the iron boss and hand-grip as the wood of the shield board decomposes in the ground.

In the case of the Sutton Hoo find, what survives are gilded bronze strips and emblems, including a bird-of-prey with predatory beak and talons, and a six-winged dragon with open gaping jaws. These may symbolize the strength and courage of the shield's bearer.

At the centre is a heavy iron boss, decorated with pairs of intertwined horses. Around the rim are gilt-bronze panels covered with interlacing animals and flanked by dragon's heads with beady precious garnet eyes. The shield was held by an iron grip behind the boss; this too is ornamented with dragon and bird heads.

The Sutton Hoo shield is the most ornate shield to have survived from this period. It is clearly heavily influenced by Vendel style, even more so than the helmet, suggesting that both regions share cultural links in the late sixth and early seventh century.

Back on the continent, Saxony and Denmark were immediate neighbours to the Vendels, via the sea. It would make sense that British Anglo-Saxons maintained ties with their homeland and also, by association, with the Vendels.

It is also clear that the shield was custom made to accompany the helmet, part of a matching set sharing the same themes.

The Horse theme found reocurring on the helmet and shield is curious.

Anglo Saxons were known to be renowned horse rearers on the continent, and they clearly continued this interest after colonising Britain. To such a degree in fact, that when Professer Tolkien created his Rohadrim of Middle-earth, modelling them on the Saxons, they were masterful horse lords and cavalry.

Yet when the Anglo-Saxon-Jute-Frisian-Allemani-Frank tribes occupied Britain and created England, the use of cavalry on the battlefield in Britain all but disappeared. The last true cavalry forces in Britain fell with Arthur and would not reappear until the Norman invasion. This, despite the prime horse rearing lands on the island and the obvious interest in horses by it's masters. Why?

If anyone has an answer, let me know. :)

The sword and it's fittings found in the same mound as the helmet and shield are also of interest for their quality.

Anglo-Saxon sword blades were made using a technique known as pattern-welding, where rods of iron were twisted and then forged to form the core of a blade to which a sharp cutting edge was added. The sword blade found at the Sutton Hoo ship-burial is especially complex and is matched only by one other find in another Sutton Hoo mound. Both must have been made by the same master swordsmith.

The sword is richly furnished with a beautiful gold and precious garnet pommel, with gold guards and clips on the hilt. It was buried in a wooden scabbard, lined with oily sheep wool that kept the blade bright.

The sword hung from a sword-belt with fittings that are equally magnificent. All are made of gold with inlaid precious garnet. Of particular note is the astounding buckle.

The buckle has a small oval loop, cut aways and long rectangular front and back plates. The end of the belt ran between these two plates and was held securely in place by golden rivets. The front of the buckle is decorated with panels of garnets that are deliberately set at different levels, as though to emphasize the raised central panel. All the garnets are set over gold which reflect light back through the stones to make them sparkle.

The buckle was made integrated with four rectangular mounts that stiffened the belt, and a strap-distributor from which a second strap, a mini-baldric, narrower than the belt, fell to the sword scabbard and scabbard slide.

The belt buckle is the only piece of 'jewellery' found in this extraordinary grave that is damaged - it lay beneath the blade and was crushed when the burial chamber collapsed.

Sutton Hoo truly intrigues me, and if, like me you'd love to learn more, check out the British Museum site here:$+with+all_unique_id_index+is+$=OBJ3920&submit-button=summary

Much of my post has been taken from this site, reworked and worded as appropriate.