Sutton Hoo is a Pagan burial site, where archaeologists have uncovered mounds, which are believed to have housed boat burials, including Raedwald ‘the last of the great kings.’ In this essay I will be looking at how useful Sutton Hoo is as a window in to 7th Century Anglo Saxon society and Culture.
Sutton Hoo in many respects is useful as a window into the Dark Ages and 7th century as we do not have much information or evidence surrounding this time era as the Vikings destroyed many records and artefacts, whilst others were ‘Christianised.’ So anything is a piece of useful knowledge.
The mounds that were excavated at the Sutton Hoo site, have given us clues, clues that we would otherwise not have had.
In the mounds they found a boat filled with treasures such a helmet, sword, gold buckle, silver dishes, a set of 10 silver bowls (Mediterranean origin with a cross design on each of them.) A purse, in which were found 37 gold coins of Merovingiam origin, (from the area that is now France.) And so on. These finds suggest ‘Distant influences and wide connections’ they were not an inward looking parochial society but one where there was a fluid interchange of materials, goods and cultures. From this they worked out that it was a burial chamber for someone, and the fact that there was gold and silver jewellery showed that this person was wealthy, perhaps a King. So from just looking at the finds we can determine that perhaps there was a Hierarchy in place.
The factor that they were buried in a boat suggests there was a strong link between society and boats; they would have been skilled in the craft of building boats. The quality of boatmanship would have been high because they needed boats to travel and trade. We can tell that they did travel and trade because of the goods found in the boat burial, they did not keep themselves to themselves. They were not an ‘Insular Society.’ Hence the ‘Distant influences and wide connections.’
From the finds we can see that they had links with; Scandinavians, Egyptians, Franks, Romans and the Greeks. Which reinforces the fact that they were travellers, and the artefacts found in the boat from these places again suggests that Trade was an important part of their lives.
From the boat burial we can see that they were Pagan because placing the objects into the burial chamber meant that they would be used for in the ‘afterlife,’ which is a Pagan belief and tradition. Though inside the boat they did find artefacts, (like two silver spoons inscribed with the words ‘Paulos’ and ‘Saulos’) which were Christian, this can suggest that this time era was in a state of transition; a Pagan burial, but with Christian artefacts buried within.
The helmets and swords imply that they were warriors and, being included within the burial chamber, suggest that Status comes with being a successful warrior, reinforces the idea that a hierarchy is in place and that the burial mound is of a wealthy person. The swords show that the people of this time period were skilled in the craftsmanship of swords and good in battle.
Sutton Hoo as a window into 7th Century is useful because as there is already a lack of evidence every little bit helps to piece the picture together.
“Other treasures have survived from 7th Century England, but only those from Sutton Hoo are outstanding not only in number but in quantity.”
From the findings we can suggest that they could have been Pagan or Christian, this was a transition period, proved by the two silver spoons found. These people were skilled craftsmen, skilled warriors, travellers and traders and that they was a hierarchy in place within society.
But it does leave unanswered questions as there is no burial site at Sutton Hoo to suggest how people lived, what they lived in, and just general every day goings on in 7th century.
So whilst Sutton Hoo is useful for widening out knowledge on 7th Century Society and Culture, there are still many things unanswered, it does not give a full view into what life was like back then. It makes more questions than it does answer.