Long awaited homecoming for important Anglo-Saxon treasures

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A much-anticipated exhibition bringing together treasures from a golden age of Anglo-Saxon England is set to open at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk this spring.

Following a two-year delay due to coronavirus restrictions, Swords of Kingdoms: The Staffordshire Hoard at Sutton Hoo opens at the National Trust site near Woodbridge on 19 May and will run until 30 October.

The exhibition will see two of the most important Anglo-Saxon archaeological discoveries to have ever been made reunited, bringing together original treasures from the famous Anglo-Saxon burial site alongside objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, which will go on display for the first time in East Anglia.

Unearthed by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field in 2009, the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever found. Scholars believe that many of the items found in the Hoard could have been made in workshops in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia[1] before being taken elsewhere, making this something of a homecoming for the treasure.

This will be the first major new exhibition hosted at Sutton Hoo since the completion of a £4million transformation project in 2021. Alongside the Staffordshire Hoard items, the exhibition will also see original objects from the famous 1939 dig at Sutton Hoo, on loan from the British Museum, displayed together with further Anglo-Saxon finds on loan from Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

Bearing remarkably similar details in design and craftsmanship as the treasures found at Sutton Hoo, it is now believed that many of the objects from the Staffordshire Hoard were made in the same seventh century East Anglian workshops as much of the gold and garnet cloisonné jewellery from Sutton Hoo. Believed to have been buried between c.650-675 in the kingdom of Mercia, the Staffordshire Hoard is predominantly made up of weaponry fittings and it is estimated that the fittings could have come from between 100-150 different swords.

The National Trust has been working in partnership with Chris Fern, an expert on the Staffordshire Hoard, on this temporary exhibition. It will see a selection of items from the Hoard on display alongside finds from Mound One at Sutton Hoo that were unearthed in 1939, such as one of the gold and garnet shoulder clasps, the gold and garnet sword pyramids, three of the gold coins and the gold sword belt buckle. These objects are all usually on display at the British Museum, having been donated to the nation by Sutton Hoo’s then owner, Edith Pretty.

Chris Fern said: “The Staffordshire Hoard is a collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure from the battlefield. There are golden warrior objects from swords, war-saddles, a royal helmet and a great war cross. Like the related treasures of Sutton Hoo, they show us a distant age that mixed pagan magic with new Christian beliefs. This was a time when kingdoms across Britain battled for supremacy, when kings fought and slayed each other. A bit like Game of Thrones, but real.”

Housed in Sutton Hoo’s temporary exhibition space, the display will sit alongside the permanent exhibition of both original and replica items.

Laura Howarth, Archaeology and Engagement Manager at Sutton Hoo said: “A celebration of a golden and garnet adorned age of exquisite Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship, I am delighted that we will soon be able to welcome visitors to our much-anticipated temporary exhibition Swords of Kingdoms. It is such a special opportunity to be able to unite objects from the Staffordshire Hoard and across East Anglia with those found here at Sutton Hoo, objects which speak of the seventh century warrior elite and a period of great change.”

The exhibition supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and New Anglia LEP will see 60 original Anglo-Saxon objects on display, on loan from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the British Museum and Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

C-J Green, Chair of New Anglia LEP, said: “Sutton Hoo is a real jewel in Suffolk’s crown and this exhibition will be a huge draw for visitors when it opens in May. Cultural attractions like this will also support the region’s economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic and our ambition to build a year-round visitor economy.”

Since the release of the Netflix film The Dig in 2021, Sutton Hoo has seen an increased interest in the history of the site of international archaeological significance. In this new temporary exhibition, visitors will be able to see some of the objects discovered at Sutton Hoo and learn more how these objects fit into the wider world of the Anglo-Saxons.

Swords of Kingdoms: The Staffordshire Hoard at Sutton Hoo opens on 19 May and will be on display until October 30. Due to popularity of the site, tickets to Sutton Hoo will need to be booked in advance via www.nationaltrust.org.uk/suttonhoo. Entry to the exhibition is included in the entry ticket, which is free for National Trust members.

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