An ex­cit­ing new project will un­lock Sut­ton Hoo’s An­glo Saxon past and re­veal how it has helped shape who we are to­day

EADT Suffolk - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS: Jayne Lindill

The next chap­ter in the un­fold­ing story of Sut­ton Hoo is about to be writ­ten as the Na­tional Trust em­barks on a ma­jor project to trans­form vis­i­tors’ ex­pe­ri­ences of the site and bring to life the An­glo Saxon realm of King Raed­wald.

The trust has won a £1.8 mil­lion grant from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund to­wards a £4 mil­lion project called Re­leas­ing the Sut­ton Hoo Story. Plans in­clude cre­at­ing new walk­ing routes to link the var­i­ous as­pects of the site, a new vis­i­tor cen­tre, dis­plays, ex­hi­bi­tions and a 17 me­tre view­ing tower with views over the burial mounds and the River Deben where the ship car­ry­ing Raed­wald is be­lieved to have ar­rived.

Sut­ton Hoo, near Wood­bridge, is one of the most im­por­tant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in the world. Its 7th cen­tury burial mounds, ex­ca­vated from the late 1930s on­wards, have yielded the coun­try’s most sig­nif­i­cant An­glo-Saxon ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies, which have helped to shape our un­der­stand­ing of the ori­gins of English his­tory. These in­clude the re­mains of a burial ship, be­lieved to be­long to King Raed­wald, and the items which ac­com­pa­nied him on his jour­ney to the af­ter­life, in­clud­ing the iconic Sut­ton Hoo hel­met.

Sut­ton Hoo’s ar­chae­ol­ogy and en­gage­ment man­ager Laura Howarth, has been work­ing with the Bri­tish Mu­seum, ar­chae­ol­o­gists from the Mu­seum of Lon­don, and the lo­cal com­mu­nity to shape the project and which will help vis­i­tors to dis­cover more about the peo­ple who set­tled on the shores of the Deben, and those who took part in the digs that un­cov­ered the world fa­mous finds.

“They’ll get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the burial mounds, how they fit into the land­scape and how peo­ple left their mark on the land­scape,” she said.

The vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence will start with an en­hanced wel­come area and new vis­i­tor cen­tre cre­ated out of an ex­ist­ing build­ing, cur­rently used for stor­age. The iconic hel­met sculp­ture will be moved and a plan to build a life-size replica of the burial ship, hatched at the time the site was first opened to vis­i­tors, will fi­nally be re­alised in a huge me­tal sculp­ture, cur­rently in the process of be­ing com­mis­sioned.

Tran­mer House, the for­mer home of Edith Pretty who in­sti­gated the dig that led to the dis­cov­er­ies, will be trans­formed with a new ex­hi­bi­tion re­volv­ing around ar­chae­ol­ogy and

dis­cov­ery. It will ex­plore the time­line of Sut­ton Hoo, An­glo Saxon so­ci­ety’s con­nec­tions to the rest of the world through trade and cul­ture, and the on­go­ing re­search at this and other ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites.

A new walk­ing route around the site will lead vis­i­tors from Tran­mer House, walk­ing in the steps of the An­glo Sax­ons. They’ll be able to trace how they hauled the ves­sel, prob­a­bly trans­ported by river from nearby Rendle­sham, up the val­ley from the River Deben be­fore it formed the burial cham­ber found in Mound One, where it was dis­cov­ered by Suf­folk ar­chae­ol­o­gist Basil Brown in 1939. It will also prompt vis­i­tors to think about how the enor­mous ship was moved – by hu­man ef­fort alone, with the help of horses per­haps, maybe us­ing trees as rollers.

As they reach the burial mounds, vis­i­tors will be able to climb a 17-me­tre ob­ser­va­tion tower to gain views over the en­tire burial ground and across to the Deben, putting the whole sce­nario into con­text. Four trenches, dug as part of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sur­vey prior to build­ing the tower, have al­ready re­vealed pre­his­toric flints and pos­si­bly a pre­his­toric ditch.

It is also planned that the burial mounds, which are cur­rently roped off to pro­tect them, will be made ac­ces­si­ble, al­though Laura said care­ful mon­i­tor­ing will be re­quired to mea­sure ero­sion.

En­hanced guided tours, thought-pro­vok­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and in­stal­la­tions, in­no­va­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion and cre­ative pro­gram­ming will all sit along­side a schools’ ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme.

The ex­hi­bi­tion hall will also be trans­formed, cre­at­ing a more dra­matic ex­pe­ri­ence and evok­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion to events of the past.

It will ex­plore the 1,400-year­sold cul­ture that shaped Eng­land’s char­ac­ter and still in­flu­ences our lives to­day – our po­si­tion in the world, global trade, gov­er­nance, the sta­tus of women, crafts and skills, poetry, art and more.

The trans­for­ma­tion of Sut­ton Hoo will also en­able the Na­tional Trust to of­fer more op­por­tu­ni­ties for vol­un­teers in a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, such as mak­ing ac­cu­rate his­tor­i­cal cos­tumes and pub­lic ar­chae­ol­ogy ses­sions.

The Sut­ton Hoo site will close at the end of Septem­ber, so the work can be car­ried out, and is sched­uled to re­open in the spring of 2019. N

For more in­for­ma­tion about vis­it­ing Sut­ton Hoo, what to see, events and fu­ture plans, visit na­tion­al­ sut­ton-hoo

ABOVE:The burial mounds. Photo: Justin Minns/ Na­tional Trust

RIGHT:Pre­his­toric flints found in the dig

TOP RIGHT: The iconic Sut­ton Hoo hel­met

BE­LOW RIGHT: Ex­ca­vat­ing a trench in the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sur­vey prior to build­ing the tower

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