This spectacular Anglo-Saxon helmet – perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon object in a museum today – was among the finds made at the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk in the late 1930s, the story of which is told in the current Netflix film, The Dig.
The ornately decorated helmet, the manufacture of which is dated to the late 6th or early 7th century, was found buried in the grave mound of an important figure whom some believe was an East Anglian king named Rædwald. The grave mound had been constructed over a ship containing the body and artefacts including the helmet. The ship itself had disintegrated but its imprint was uncovered during the excavation.
Excavated in hundreds of corroded fragments, the iron and bronze helmet, which is believed to have weighed about 2.5 kilograms, was painstakingly reassembled in the mid-1940s to reveal a helmet featuring cheek and neck guards and a mask with sculpted facial features including a nose, eyebrows and moustache as well as holes for the eyes. It features a number of other decorative elements including representations of dragons and warriors as well as geometric patterns. Gold and silver were used in the decorations.
The helmet underwent a second reconstruction in the early 1970s after issues were identified with the first.
The helmet, along with other artefacts found at the site, were deemed to be the property of Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty who subsequently donated it to the British Museum. It is on permanent display in Room 41 of the museum.
• Celebrating 75 years since its discovery this year, the Anglo-Saxon treasure of Sutton Hoo has a new home from this week with the reopening of the renovated gallery housing early medieval artefacts at the British Museum. Excavated at a site in Suffolk in 1939, the Sutton Hoo ship burial is described as the richest intact burial to survive from Europe. It featured a 27 metre long ship and objects including an iconic helmet and is thought to be linked to the death of an Anglo-Saxon king in the early 600s. The treasure now forms the centrepiece of the gallery – Room 41 – which was last renovated in 1985. Other objects in the gallery – which covers Europe during the period from 300 to 1100 – include the Kells Crozier, the Lycurgus Cup, and the Fuller Brooch as well as new objects never shown before such as late Roman mosaics, a copper alloy necklace from the Baltic Sea region and a gilded mount found in a lump of material taken from a Viking woman’s grave. Admission to the gallery – the refurbishment of which was made possible through a donation from Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock – is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• The British Library’s annual celebration of fashion, film and design kicks off today. Now in its third year, the Spring Festival, which runs over the weekend, will give people the chance to see selected material from the newly acquired archive of screenwriter, novelist and playwright Hanif Kureishi (he will also be present, speaking with writer Rachel Holmes about his career). Other events celebrate fashion and film in the Jazz Age, the British newspaper archive and the resources the library has for film-makers. For full details, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/spring-festival-2014/events/index.html.
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• The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opened the doors of its new £36.5 million Sammy Ofer Wing today. The new, architecturally slick extension – which is being touted as bringing with it a change of direction in the way the museum operates – features a new permanent gallery known as Voyages as well as a temporary exhibition space, library and archive. There’s also a lounge, cafe and brasserie – the latter boasting views out over Greenwich Park. The Voyages gallery has been designed as an introduction to the museum and features a 30 metre long thematic ‘object wall’ hosting more than 200 objects – everything from a letter written by Horatio Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton while he was on board the Victory in 1803 through to a watch belonging to Robert Douglas Norman – among those who perished on the Titanic, and a somewhat battered Punch puppet. The special exhibition space initially hosts High Arctic which uses technology to create an “immersive environment” exploring the Arctic world from the perspective of the future. The museum is also introducing the Compass Card scheme, a new initiative which will eventually be rolled out across the museum. Visitors are presented with a unique card with which, by inserting it into special units placed in galleries, they can flag their interest in receiving further information on a specified subject. The card can then be used to call up related archival information in the museum’s Compass Lounge or using the visitor’s home computer. For more information, see www.nmm.ac.uk.
• The British Museum has announced funding has been secured for two new gallery spaces. These will include a new gallery looking at the history of world money from 2000 BC to present day. Known as the Citi Money Gallery, it will be opened in 2012. A donation from Paul and Jill Ruddock, meanwhile, means the museum will also be working on a major redisplay of Room 41 which covers the Mediterranean and Europe from 300 to 1,100 AD. The artefacts in the room include treasures taken from Sutton Hoo and the Vale of York Viking Hoard. The gallery will open in 2013/14. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Now On: Festival of British Archaeology. Coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the 21st festival (formerly known as National Archaeology Week) kicks off this weekend and runs until the end of July. It boasts more than 800 events across Britain including in London where they include guided tours of the Rose Theatre, a range of Roman themed events and activities – including a gladiator show – at the Museum of London, gallery talks at the Bank of England Museum and British Museum, the chance to visit the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, and a guided walk of Londinium (Roman London) organised by All Hallows by the Tower. For a complete events listing, see http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/.
• Now On: The London Street Photography Festival is running until the end of the month with a series of exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops, the majority of which are taking place in and around King’s Cross. Key events include Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph featuring never before seen images at the British Library, Vivien Maier: A Life Uncovered at the German Gymnasium, and Seen/Unseen – George Georgiou and Mimi Mollica at the Collective Gallery. For more information, see www.londonstreetphotographyfestival.org.
Now housed in the British Museum (pictured), the artefacts discovered in a ship burial at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in Suffolk helped to shed new light on what life was like in Anglo-Saxon society.
The excavation at the Sutton Hoo site was carried out in 1939, just before World War II. The finds were impressive and centred on a 27 metre long oak ship in the midst of which was constructed a burial chamber for a man of some significance along with his possessions.
The latter included his armour (the centrepiece of which is the spectacular and painstakingly reconstructed Sutton Hoo helmet complete with face mask), weapons such as a sword and spears, silverware and silver-mounted drinking horns and cups, clothes and other assorted items of wealth, including a purse with a ‘lid’ containing, among other things, Merovingian gold coins struck believed to have been struck between 595 and 640 AD.
While the remains found date to around the early seventh century, the man’s exact identity remains something of a mystery. But it is possible he may have been one of four Anglo-Saxon kings known to have been buried in the area.