What Can The Study Of Grave Goods Tell Us About The Nature Of Society?

1060 words - 4 pages

What can the study of grave-goods tell us about the nature of society?The Anglo-Saxon ship, Sutton Hoo, was discovered by Basil Brown in 1939 in a burial mound near Woodbridge, Suffolk, in southeast England, and was excavated in 1939 and in 1965-7. This excavation provided a number of aspects of the study of Anglo-Saxons. It shows aspects of the Christian conversion, everyday life, religion, customs, kingdoms, myths and legends, and the study of the remains of the Anglo-Saxons - their artefacts and buildings. 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.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. Therefore the grave goods may not quite be representative of the 'ordinary' person and the 'everyday' objects of Anglo-Saxon households. However, they give us an idea of the type of possessions the more elitist (wealthy, powerful, royal) had and the importance of ceremonies, entertainment and feasting. There is considerable evidence from the Sutton Hoo material that the people buried in the cemetery had strong connections with Scandinavia. "Certainly the custom of ship burials is a Nordic one - there are many similar Viking remains in Denmark and Sweden" . Many objects were either imported, traded or copied. In particular the shield and helmet are very similar to examples found in the Vendel region of Southern Sweden. Decorative designs found on the helmet and other objects are also paralleled by Swedish examples. The family group represented at Sutton Hoo is assumed to be the Wuffings, who had strong Scandinavian links and claimed descent from Scandinavian royalty, with a lineage stretching back as far as the god Woden, the Anglo-Saxon name for the Scandinavian name, Odin.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, especially 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 splendor" . The evidence of location, date and contents suggest that the burial was that of Raedwald, who was King of the East Angles, 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 the two objects found in the burial (the iron stand and the whetstone or 'sceptre'). This is even more emphasised by the 'regalia' - the shoulder clasps (reminiscent of Roman Imperial garb), the sword belt, and the gold buckle, and the large quantity of silver items. Burial items such as...

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