What Can The Study Of Grave Goods Tell Us About The Nature Of Society? Europe From Late Antiquity To Early Middle Ages

1622 words - 6 pages

What can the study of grave-goods tell us about the nature of society?Europe From Late Antiquity to Early Middle AgesCormac GriffinA1177407The Anglo-Saxon ship, Sutton Hoo, was discovered in 1939 in a burial mound near Woodbridge, Suffolk, in southeast England. Initially excavated in this year and again in 1965-7, the grave-goods discovered were both extensive and revealing of a number of facets of Anglo-Saxon life of the 7th century including everyday life, religion, customs, myths and legends, artefacts and buildings, and indeed even aspects of the Christian conversion. Sutton Hoo provides virtually the only evidence for the development of kingship during this period, and is the key source for the moment when the Anglo-Saxons ceased to be tribal and began to form kingdoms. This brief tutorial paper outlines the key discoveries made at Sutton Hoo and highlights the inferences which can be drawn from these objects. It concludes that these grave-goods discoveries can greatly assist our understanding of the nature of historical societies.Sutton Hoo is a burial ground dating from the early 7th century AD, and was probably the main burial ground of the pagan Kings of East Anglia. Accordingly, the grave-goods are unlikely to be representative of the 'ordinary' person and the 'everyday' objects of Anglo-Saxon households of the time. Rather, they highlight the type of possessions the elite of society - the wealthy, the powerful and the royal - had and the importance to this elite of ceremonies, entertainment and feasting. The burial in Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo is one of a small number of ancient burials, which can be linked to an individual person, someone "who was so powerful in his lifetime to be interred with ceremony in a ship nearly 90 feet in length surrounded by so much golden splendour" . The evidence of location, date and contents suggest that the burial was that of Raedwald, who was King of the East Anglia, and died about 625AD. East Anglia was one of a number of kingdoms (called the Heptarchy or group of seven kingdoms) which included Mercia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex and Northumbria, and which vied from time to time with one another, fighting battles for supremacy. King Raedwald's status, holding a position of overlordship, is confirmed by two objects found in the burial (the iron stand and the whetstone or 'sceptre'). Further testament to his status were the 'regalia' - the shoulder clasps (reminiscent of Roman Imperial garb), the sword belt, and the gold buckle, and the large quantity of silver items. Other burial items such as swords, shields, throwing axes and helmets provide evidence for war-gear as well as ceremonies and hunting.The ship found at Sutton Hoo provides important evidence about the construction and performance of ships at this time: it is the largest ship in NW Europe dating prior to 1000AD, its propulsion was mainly through rowing but it could also have been sailed. Its construction and design show that the Anglo-Saxons of...

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