Last year we looked at the Anglo-Saxons in quite a lot of detail and we read about Sutton Hoo but our focus was on the life of the Anglo-Saxons, the migrations and the different kingdoms and rulers. We visited the British Museum at the time and saw the Sutton Hoo collection but I don’t think we appreciated all the detail. Quite by chance I happened to see a documentary series called Raiders of the Lost Past which was presented by Janina Ramirez and one of the episodes dealt with Sutton Hoo so I recorded it. It sparked a whole new interest.
Firstly Janina Ramirez is already popular in our house because she is the author of Riddle of the Runes and Way of the Waves and she also featured in a documentary about the Battle of Hastings which both of my kids watched a few times. But all that aside she did an amazing job – the documentary explained how the Sutton Hoo burial was discovered and how the excavation proceeded. Both of mine loved the fact that it was discovered by chance and that some grave robbers (who left the now famous gin bottle behind) just missed the spot because the shape of the burial mound had changed.
The also started to appreciate the detail and amazing craftsmanship that went into creating some of the Sutton Hoo items. The documentary was such a brilliant discovery and it really brought the entire excavation and the finds to life for both my kids. It also sparked a brilliant discussion about how historians classify the Anglo-Saxon period – both of mine are not happy about the period being called the Dark Ages as they feel the craftsmanship displayed was amazing even by today’s standards.
So we decided that we needed to revisit the British Museum where a number of the Sutton Hoo artefacts are on display. This time we were going to focus on the Anglo-Saxon finds, so I want onto the British Museum website and found some pages to print off about room 41 – room 41 download. (I did this to help on a sensory leave, sometimes the museum can be overwhelming, you never know how noisy or busy it is going to be so having something to focus on can help if it gets crazy inside the room).
As soon as we got there we started in room 41 with the Sutton Hoo finds.
The helmet of course is amazing, the detail on the helmet is crazy but the other items are just as interesting – the shield, the sword, the shoulder bracelets and even that cauldron. Look at the chain holding the cauldron up and you get an idea of how high the roof of their halls might have been. Seeing the garnets used and knowing that there was a thin sheet of gold behind to make them sparkle really added something to the trip, all of those little details that we learnt while watching the documentary just made seeing the items more meaningful and really it made us appreciate them on a whole new level.
But we did not just stick with the Sutton Hoo pieces. There are other amazing items from that time period in room 41. Like the whale bone casket (Franks Casket) and the 5 senses brooch. Actually there is quite a bit of jewellery in that room and we spent some time looking at the different pieces, talking about the similarities and how hard it would have been to create these items. My daughter actually made a comment that the brooches remind her of the Mandala colouring pages that you get these days – the way the brooches are often divided into quadrants and the patterns are repeated in each quadrant.
The kids noticed a lot more about the items in the room after watching the documentary – they knew to look out for colours – Anglo-Saxons mainly stuck to red and blue along with the metals (so silver and gold). They also knew to see if the designs where just decorative curves or if they could spot animals or people woven in.
After we had finished with the Anglo-Saxon room (The Museum calls it Early Medieval room) we decided to have a quick look at the next room – the Medieval room to see if the kids could pick out changes. We had a bit of a chuckle in that they both had to pass through the Battle of Hastings and survive to get to the next room – which really meant just walking across the doorway but they liked the idea and it brought that event into our day and helped to order the two rooms in their mind.
In the Medieval Room the both commented on how there was a much stronger Christian influence (in the previous room there are hints of Christianity in the art but we still felt it had a Pagan feeling to it). They also noticed more colours.
After our lovely day out at the British Museum we thought it would be good to go and see the site where all of this originated – well where the Sutton Hoo artefacts came from. So we drove down to Sutton Hoo for the day (it is a Nation Trust Site). I must admit it was quite a drive for us but I am so glad we went.
The site has been beautifully preserved and it really emphasised the fact that it was a ship burial (27 feet long ship). We all loved the fact that as you arrive you see a ship outline showing how massive the Great ship really was.
Walking around the site also emphasized how close the burial mounds were to the river and both kids were amazed by the fact that the Anglo-Saxons dragged the massive ship up the hill to for the burial.
We also went into the exhibit hall which is brilliant. They have created a really informative display about Anglo-Saxons filled with replicas from the Site but also lots of information about the day to day life, the different people who lived then and the jobs that they did. We spent ages inside the exhibition hall and I honestly think this is one of the best National Trust sites that we have ever visited.
Just to mention although they have replicas at the Sutton Hoo National Trust site it does not diminish the experience in fact my kids actually liked seeing the replicas because the detail on them is clear and complete.