Who's buried at Hoo?

SEVENTY years after its discovery the debate still rages over who was buried in the mound overlooking the River Deben.

Andrew Clarke

SEVENTY years after its discovery the debate still rages over who was buried in the mound overlooking the River Deben.

Andrew Clarke spoke to National Trust archaeologist Angus Wainwright about the most likely candidate for Sutton Hoo's most celebrated resident.

For many there is no doubt that the ship burial at Sutton Hoo is that of a king - certainly the rich treasures found in the burial chamber lend weight to this argument - but aggravatingly there is no name inscribed on any piece of jewellery, armour or drinking horn to settle the matter beyond any doubt.

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As result there has thrown up an endless debate about the identity of the person buried in such splendour.

National Trust archaeologist Angus Wainwright says that carbon dating tests and examination of the artefacts puts the Sutton Hoo finds firmly at the start of the seventh century - unfortunately there is a 40 year margin of error and a number of kings which could fill the slot.

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However, he does concede that the most likely candidate is indeed Raedwald - not only King of East Anglia but king of all the kings of Britain.

“The artefacts date from around 600 AD - maybe just a little before and just a little after. Basically you have a 30-40 year period when that grave could have been created and that covers a lot of Kings of East Anglia - which some people still doubt.

“I think it is safe to assume that it is a king, the riches would suggest that. In fact it is the richest burial discovered in Britain and the richest discovered north of the Alps which would suggest that not only is it a king, it is a very important king. This is what leads people to believe it is Raedwald.”

He said that he believes that this is likely because his reign fits the time window they have for the burial and that it would have to be a king of Raedwald's status to warrant such extravagant grave goods. The other clue is that there are clearly Christian objects included in the grave, such as the silver spoons, and it was well known that although Raedwald was converted to Christianity he kept a foot in both camps and continued to pay homage to both the pagan gods and the new Christian God. Therefore finding Christian artefacts in a pagan burial would not be odd if the grave belonged to Raedwald.

“There is a debate paging saying that perhaps the burial is either completely pagan or alternatively completely Christian because it is right on the cusp of the change over from a pagan world to a Christian one. Abroad there were plenty of rich Christians buried with grave goods.”

He said that the other complicating factor is that Mound Two was also a ship burial and because it was robbed there was no way of knowing who was buried there. Could that have been Raedwald or his father or son or brother?

Angus says that excavations in the 1960s and 1980s have made it clear that Sutton Hoo is a royal cemetery and was used only for a brief period - probably for no longer than 60 years.

Coins recovered from the Mound One ship burial were even struck from the same dies as those found the famous Mound Two Sutton Hoo ship burial, suggesting that they were created during a similar time period.

“As far as I am aware Sutton Hoo is unique in that it is the only burial ground we have found which contains only royal burials. Unless we find a name on something, we will never know for sure, but looking at the evidence, I can see no reason why it shouldn't be Raedwald.”

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