Excavation of Saxon Warrior Touches Home with Veteran Volunteers

Excavation of Saxon Warrior Touches Home with Veteran Volunteers



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Operation Nightingale was an initiative that involved injured armed forces personnel, especially veterans who had returned from recent conflict zones such as Afghanistan, in archaeological fieldwork. They’ve just completed successful excavations at a Saxon cemetery on Salisbury plain. What they found on their last day of work struck a chord with many of the participants.

The Guardian reports that just before calling the project at Barrow Clump quits, a metal detector was used to give one last sweep of the site. Imagine their surprise when it gave out an unusually strong signal and a skeleton with well-preserved weapons was unearthed.

A skeleton with well-preserved weapons was unearthed at the Saxon cemetery on the last day of excavations. ( Operation Nightingale )

The skeleton has been identified as a Saxon soldier who died in the 6th century AD. It was buried with a belt buckle, knife, tweezers, and had a spear at one side and a remarkably well-preserved pattern-welded sword in its arms. The sword still bears some of the wood and leather scabbard, which surprised Richard Osgood , leader at the site and senior archaeologist with the Defense Infrastructure Organization. It is a rather lucky find because the grave was found under a military trackway and the site has been damaged by plowing and badgers too. These kind of high status swords have rarely been found intact in better environments.

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Osgood said that he felt some conflicting emotions when he found out about the discovery.

“It was a classic last day of the dig find – there was such a buzz across the site, the soldiers definitely had a sense of kinship. I have to admit I also thought ‘there goes my budget’ – there was quite a tricky conversation afterwards with the MoD because of the sudden increase in conservation costs.”

Saxon spear from the burial. (Operation Nightingale )

There was also a new buzz and a moving moment when the word spread amongst the veterans, according to The Guardian, “The soldiers were very moved by the discovery of a man they felt would have shared some of their experiences.”

Several burials of men and women have been found during the three weeks of excavations at the site. The men were buried around the edge of the Saxon cemetery and women and children were placed in the center. Weapons and jewelry were popular grave goods. A few of the other notable finds included a man which was buried with a sword, a girl with a large amber bead, and a little boy curled up without grave goods. Osgood believes that the deceased once lived in a settlement below, and told The Guardian “It’s that Saxon thing of looking up the hill and knowing your ancestors are up there on a site that was already ancient and special.”

A child buried with a Chatelaine or purse in the Saxon cemetery. ( Operation Nightingale )

Barrow Clump itself is a site that has been occupied since the Neolithic period. A Bronze Age burial mound and the Anglo-Saxon cemetery were later additions. Unfortunately, much of the site has been damaged by the previously mentioned factors. Recently badgers have been digging up human bones, which is the reason excavations have been permitted.

Dig partner Wessex Archaeology has taken the artifacts to continue analysis and conservation, but the objects will eventually be bequeathed on the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

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A skull excavated at Barrow Clump in Salisbury Plain. ( Crown Copyright 2018 )

The Ministry of Defence, the controlling body for Operation Nightingale, sees a link between the skills veterans have acquired with those needed for archaeological fieldwork:

“There is a close correlation between the skills required by the modern soldier and those of the professional archaeologist. These skills include surveying, geophysics (for ordnance recovery or revealing cultural heritage sites), scrutiny of the ground (for improvised explosive devices or artefacts), site and team management, mapping, navigation and the physical ability to cope with hard manual work in often inclement weather conditions.”

Last November, remains outside the barrow were found including a man with an iron spear and a woman with jewelry. ( Twitter)

Apparently, the project has been quite successful and The Guardian reports “several of the veterans have retrained as professional archaeologists.”


    Review – Fashion of Archaeology

    The clothes worn by archaeologists on site provide a vivid record not only of how the discipline has evolved over time, but of the personal experiences of people working in this field. An exhibition currently running at National Trust Sutton Hoo documents some of these sartorial snapshots. Carly Hilts went along to find out more.

    When you look at photographs of the 1939 Sutton Hoo excavation, it is not only the key protagonists who are immediately recognisable – from Basil Brown with his flat cap and pipe to Peggy Piggott in her boiler suit – but the historical period in which the dig took place. Snapshots of fieldwork from later decades also preserve unmistakeable images of particular moments in time – you cannot fail to recognise a dig from the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, just by looking at the participants’ hairstyles and clothing (or, sometimes, lack thereof).

    An exhibition currently running at National Trust Sutton Hoo, Fashion of Archaeology, explores some of these changing trends and the insights they give. Located in the Treasury, the temporary exhibition space of the site’s recently transformed Exhibition Hall (see CA 355), the displays (supported and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) include a mixture of photographs, clothing, and objects loaned by people from across the archaeological community: it is a material history of the archaeologists themselves, and of the practice of archaeology itself. One corner is dedicated to the 1930s investigations that first made Sutton Hoo a household name, but the majority of the exhibition focuses on living archaeologists – lively and often humorous captions written by the lenders of each item describe its significance to them and reflect on their experiences in the field.

    Many of the garments represent relics of cultural phenomena as well as the personalities of their owners among them we find a photograph of Barbara and Peter Rooley at Sutton Hoo in the summer of 1967 (they met on site and married four years later), both wearing Beatles Yellow Submarine T-shirts. A denim jacket worn on digs in the late 1970s also immediately captures the era in which it was used. Its owner is Angus Wainwright, today Archaeologist for the National Trust East of England Region – but as a student digger he had particular priorities when it came to dress-sense. ‘Clothes-wise it was important that what you wore should be: A. second-hand, B. dirty, and C. eccentric – a sure sign that you had achieved the right effect was to be thrown out of a pub in St Albans for frightening the regulars with your trouser selection,’ his caption reads. There is also a T-shirt from the 1981 Saxon Denim and Leather tour, lent by the National Trust’s Head of Archaeology Ian Barnes. ‘This shirt and other tour shirts were never off my back on site in the ’80s – they were status symbols’, he recalls – adding that he loaned this particular shirt to the exhibition as the ‘Saxon’ branding seemed most suitable for Sutton Hoo.

    SUITED AND BOOTED

    As well as these more casual clothes, the exhibition also features hard-wearing kit reflecting the different environments that archaeologists work in. Fleur Sherman and Man-Yee Liu are pictured during the excavation of the ‘warrior horseman’ burial at Sutton Hoo in 1991 they are shown wearing respirator masks, rubber gloves, and protective overalls to guard them from irritation and respiratory hazards – but the fragile remains needed protecting too, and consequently no shoes were allowed in the trench. Despite the November chill, the pair are shown working with just thick woollen socks on their feet. Moving from the sandy soil of Suffolk to the chalklands of Wiltshire, Jim Leary has donated a pair of heavy-duty blue craftsman trousers that he wore while directing investigations inside the great Neolithic mound of Silbury Hill (see CA 293) they were used by every member of the project team, whether archaeologist, miner, or engineer.

    In any exhibition about archaeological clothing you cannot avoid PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and in these displays a full suite of neon orange gear, hard hat, and boots, have been loaned by Cotswold Archaeology Suffolk. Further insights from the world of commercial archaeology come via a photograph of MOLA’s excavation at Liverpool Street station in London as part of the Crossrail Programme. Investigating part of a burial ground associated with the notorious ‘Bedlam’ hospital (see CA 302 and 313), Alison Telfer is shown dressed in colourful flame-retardant overalls which, she notes, were ‘no joke in hot weather’. Complimenting these official items we find images of a range of more informal protective kit used by diggers to make themselves more comfortable in their environment, and to ward off ‘archaeologist tan lines’ or sunstroke: sunhats, mirrored shades, neck-cloths, and a photograph of the goggles that Basil Brown wore when riding his bike or excavating sandy and windy sites like West Stow.

    BEYOND FIELDWORK

    It is not only fieldwork that features in the exhibition: scientific research is showcased in a photograph of members of York University’s DNA lab team (dressed in full-body protective suits and face masks to prevent any of their own DNA contaminating samples). Modern ‘media archaeology’, and the increased public appetite for sharing stories about the past are reflected too: former Time Team presenter Helen Geake has shared the black fleece, branded with the popular TV show’s logo, that she wore during filming, while Sutton Hoo’s site volunteers have created a loving tribute to the rainbow jumper famously worn by the late Mick Aston.

    Many of the items represent different aspects of professional archaeology, but the stories of amateur participants are not neglected. A high-vis vest of the type worn by National Trust volunteers who carry out geophysical surveys at Sutton Hoo is used to advertise opportunities to take part in future investigations (for more information, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ sutton-hoo/features/geophysics-at-sutton-hoo), while the displays also include a T-shirt worn during Operation Nightingale’s work at Aldbourne. This excavation, manned by numerous military veteran volunteers, revealed the remains of a camp used by ‘Easy Company’ (American paratroopers who participated in the D-Day landings see CA 354), and formed part of the initiative’s successful ongoing programme of using archaeological fieldwork to aid the recovery of former service personnel.

    The objects on display represent projects in the UK and abroad, and include the stories of men and women of all ages, from PhD students to Valerie Fenwick, Assistant Director of the 1960s re-excavation of Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, whose caption describes how she is still working in archaeological research at the age of 82. Above all, the exhibition highlights how diverse archaeology is, both in terms of its practices and the people who take part.

    Further information
    Fashion of Archaeology runs at Sutton Hoo until 19 April. Entry is included in admission to the site. For more information, see www.nationaltrust. org.uk/sutton-hoo/features/fashion-of-archaeology-at-sutton-hoo

    This review appeared in CA 361. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.


    New skeleton discovery at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey sheds further light on the Vikings in Wales

    The new discovery of a skeleton in a shallow grave and the unusual (during this period in Wales) non-Christian orientation of the body, and its treatment, point to distinctions being made in the burial practices for Christians and other communities during the tenth century.

    The burial is an unexpected addition to a group of five (two adolescents, two adult males and one woman) discovered in 1998-99. Originally thought to be victims of Viking raiding, which began in the 850s, this interpretation is now being revised. Stable isotope analysis by Dr Katie Hemer of Sheffield University indicates that the males were not local to Anglesey, but may have spent their early years (at least up to the age of seven) in North West Scotland or Scandinavia. The new burial will provide important additional evidence to shed light on the context of their unceremonious burial in shallow graves outside the elite fortified settlement in the later tenth century.

    The new excavations this year have also produced seventh-century silver and bronze sword/scabbard fittings, suggesting the presence of a warrior elite and the recycling of military equipment during the period of rivalry and campaigning between the kingdoms. According to Bede, the borderlands between the Welsh and English were between AD610 and the 650s a target for Northumbrian intervention. The Northumbrian king Edwin subjugated Anglesey and Man, until Cadwallon in alliance with Penda of Mercia invaded England and killed Edwin in AD 633, to rule north-east Wales and Northumbria for a year.

    One of the most intriguing settlement complexes belonging to this period, the Llanbedrgoch site has been the subject of ten summer seaons of fieldwork by Amgueddfa Cymru’s Department of Archaeology & Numismatics. The results have changed our perception of Wales in the Viking period. The site was discovered in 1994 after a number of metal detector finds had been brought to the Museum for identification. These included an Anglo-Saxon penny of Cynethryth (struck AD 787-792), a penny of Wulfred of Canterbury (struck about AD 810), 9th-century Carolingian deniers of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, and three lead weights of Viking type.

    Past excavations by the Department of Archaeology & Numismatics between 1994 and 2001 revealed much about the development of this important trading centre during the late ninth and tenth centuries, but the development of the site during the preceding period had remained less clear.

    Excavation director and Acting Keeper of Archaeology, Dr Mark Redknap, said, “The 2012 excavations have revealed not only surprises such as the additional burial, bringing with it important additional evidence on this unusual grave cluster and its historical context, but also valuable new data on the pre-Viking development of the site. Beneath a section of its 2.2m wide stone rampart, constructed in the ninth century, our team of students and volunteers uncovered an earlier buried land surface and a number of ditches, over which an early medieval midden full of food refuse along with some discarded objects had formed..”

    “Other finds from the excavation, which include semi-worked silver, silver casting waste and a fragment of an Islamic silver coin (exchanged via trade routes out of central Asia to Scandinavia and beyond), confirm Llanbedrgoch’s importance during the tenth century as a place for the manufacture and trade of commodities.”


    Military Monitoring Impact On Archaeological Sites

    An area on Salisbury Plain is being examined by archaeologists and veterans.

    Ancient Artefacts Unearthed At RAF Akrotiri

    Archaeologists have teamed up with military veterans and local volunteers to try to discover whether military activity on Salisbury Plain has had an impact on archaeological sites, which date back as far as the sixth century.

    The Ministry of Defence has set up a programme and provided funding in the form of the Conservation Stewardship Fund to evaluate the effects on ground pressure cause by military vehicles.

    Talia Hunt is an archaeologist working on the area and says: "We've found generally that they haven't been overly impacted.

    "There's a couple that were directly underneath the track and they seem to have survived reasonably well, even though they're not that much under the soil."

    Operation Nightingale is a project that was established jointly by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Rifles Regiment, which sees ill and injured service personnel and veterans assisting archaeologists with excavations on the MoD estate.

    Richard Osgood from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, said: "It's quite an emotional thing in many ways, finding these bodies and also for a soldier if you're finding someone with a shield, sword, a spear - it's a warrior so people from 1500 years ago being excavated by warriors of the 21st century - it's a really nice link.

    "You think the weight of some of these vehicles must be damaging (the skeleteons) but it really isn't, it's a real curiosity."

    One veteran benefiting from the work is Christopher Conlin, he said: "The hardest parts of recovery is the hidden part, it's more the pyschological (part) and you can lock yourself away because you don't feel like you fit in.

    "This place is the complete opposite, everyone fits in, it's a great atmosphere.

    "It gives you a mission, almost like you were back in the Army when you did have those objectives that you had to achieve.

    "You make your own objectives here and you achieve them and you've got the help and support of everyone around you."

    Amazing WWI Training Trenches Discovered On Salisbury Plain

    Also part of the excavation work is Breaking Ground Heritage, which was set up for serving and ex-serving personnel by veteran Dickie Bennett.

    He said the project can have a big impact on someone going through recovery: "A lot of people on this project in particular have withdrawn from the military community like I did.

    "By getting them back to a safe environment, one they recognise, it enables them to open up again.

    "It enables them to be the person they once were, to start thinking about the future again."

    The latest excavation has been taking place on Salisbury Plain at a site known as at Barrow Clump, where the team have been unearthing the remains of sixth-century Anglo-Saxon graves.


    The Dig is a new film by Netflix, based on the novel of the same title by John Preston. But do you know the true story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo? Read on to discover more. The Dig (released on 29th January) is a film by Netflix exploring the story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo in 1939. The film is based on a novel, also titled The Dig, written by John Preston. Many of the events and characters depicted in both the film and the novel are inspired by real events and real people. Read on to discover the incredible true story, and meet some of the characters involved with one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

    Edith Pretty (1883-1942)

    Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) was the owner of the Sutton Hoo estate and instigated the first excavations of the Royal Burial Ground. Born into a wealthy family, she spent her youth touring the world and witnessed several excavations which gave her a life-long interest in archaeology and history. The First World War took her to France where she volunteered in a Red Cross hospital. Her husband, Major Frank Pretty, had known Edith (née Dempster) for several years. They married in 1926 and moved to Sutton Hoo in the same year. In 1930 she gave birth to a son, Robert Pretty. Their happiness as a family was short lived as Frank Pretty passed away in 1934, aged 56. In 1937 Edith Pretty turned her attentions towards the curious mounds on her estate, enlisting help from Ipswich Museum. What was found turned out to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time which she then gifted to the nation.

    Basil Brown (1888-1977)

    Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) was a self-taught archaeologist, born and bred in Suffolk. His father was a farmer, and Basil Brown acquired a great deal of knowledge of the soils and geology of East Anglia whilst working with him. This served him well when he started work as an archaeological contractor for Ipswich Museum in 1935. It was through his connections with Ipswich Museum that Basil Brown came to Sutton Hoo in 1938 to begin the excavation. He retained his passion for archaeology and continued to work on sites after Sutton Hoo, until he suffered a heart attack in 1965 which forced him to retire. His other great passion in life was astronomy. He studied texts from an early age and went on to publish a book, Astronomical Atlases, Maps and Charts: An Historical and General Guide, in 1932.

    Robert Pretty (1930-1988)

    Robert Pretty (Archie Barnes) was Edith Pretty’s son. Tragically, he was only 4 years old when his father passed away. The excavation was a source of great excitement for young Robert Pretty, who was seen excavating with a toy spade around the site. At the end of the excavation period Edith Pretty commissioned Dutch artist Cor Visser to paint portraits of them both. In his painting, generously donated to the National Trust by his son David Pretty and now on display in Tranmer House, he was depicted clutching a toy ship. The depth of his involvement in the excavations was revealed in 1987 when Professor Martin Carver’s team re-excavated Mound 2. When the team had reached the base of the back-fill from the previous excavation they discovered a pair of roller skates buried in the soil. Robert Pretty was just 12 when Edith Pretty passed away, at which point his aunt Elizabeth (Edith Pretty’s sister) cared for him.

    “I’d never heard her name before. The character was so compelling, but diving into her real life was extraordinary. She was so beyond her time as a woman at the beginning of the 20th century. She was well travelled and educated and generous throughout her life”

    Carey Mulligan on Edith Pretty

    The true story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial began in July 1937 at the unlikely location of Woodbridge Flower Show. It was here that Edith Pretty, who had long been interested in the burial mounds on her estate, first met with Vincent Redstone, a local historian who wrote to Ipswich Museum. Shortly afterwards Guy Maynard, curator of Ipswich Museum, visited the Sutton Hoo estate and the wheels were set in motion to explore the site, but little did they know that what would eventually be unearthed would completely transform our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period. In the following spring, arrangements were made between Edith Pretty, Guy Maynard, James Reid Moir (President of Ipswich Museum) and Basil Brown to begin excavating the site. Edith Pretty provided Basil Brown with accommodation and assistants in the form of Bert Fuller and Tom Sawyer who were labourers on the estate.

    Between June and August 1938 Basil Brown and his team excavated three mounds (today referred to as Mounds 2, 3 and 4). Within Mound 3, he unearthed the remains of a cremated man, along with a corroded iron axe-head, part of a decorated limestone plaque, fragments of pottery and the lid of a Mediterranean jug. Mound 2 revealed pieces of iron, which he recognised as ship rivets – although having been previously scattered by grave robbers, they did not immediately suggest a ship burial. He also recovered a piece of blue glass, a gilt bronze disc, iron knives and the tip of a sword blade. Mound 4 was the last of the 1938 season, and whilst it had a very shallow pit, and showed signs of having been robbed, careful excavation revealed some tantalising fragments of bronze, high-quality textile and bone. The objects were presented by Edith Pretty to Ipswich Museum where they were placed on display. The British Museum were also informed about the finds and Guy Maynard wrote several articles on them. There was still great intrigue over the contents of the largest mound, so a second season of excavation was arranged to commence on 8th May 1939.

    For the 1939 excavations Basil Brown was joined by William Spooner (gamekeeper) and John Jacobs (gardener). Just three days in John Jacobs called out that he had found a piece of iron. Basil Brown rushed over and recognised it as being a ship rivet. Excavation continued and, despite the excitement, he maintained his careful, methodical, approach.

    Peggy Piggott (née Preston, 1912-1994)

    Peggy Piggott (Lily James), born Cecily Margaret Preston and later Margaret Guido, became involved in archaeology at an early age. She went on to gain a diploma (equivalent to a degree, which women at some universities were excluded from at the time) from the University of Cambridge in 1934 which she followed with a postgraduate diploma from the Institute of Archaeology in 1936. In the same year, she married her first husband, Stuart Piggott. Peggy Piggott became a highly skilled archaeologist and published works on numerous sites spanning the Iron Age and the Bronze Age. Her skills as an excavator made her a natural choice for Charles Phillips’ team assembled to finish the excavation of the Great Ship Burial in 1939 and she was the first of the team to discover gold at the site. Peggy and Stuart Piggott divorced in 1956. She moved to Sicily where she wrote on Italian archaeology and met her second husband, Luigi Guido. In later life she became an expert on glass beads and published several works on the subject.

    Charles Phillips (1901-1985)

    Charles Phillips (Ken Stott) became involved in the excavation in 1939. He was an experienced archaeologist and a Fellow at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He had been alerted to the work at Sutton Hoo by a former Cambridge University student, Basil Megaw, working at the Manx Museum, who had been contacted by Ipswich Museum enquiring about ship burials. Charles Phillips first visited the site in June and later in July, following meetings between all parties involved in the excavation, he was placed in charge of proceedings. Charles Phillips and Basil Brown maintained a respectful relationship throughout the excavation, although relations were strained between Charles Phillips and Ipswich Museum at times. Through his contacts he assembled a strong team of archaeologists to assist with the dig including the Piggotts, OGS Crawford and WF Grimes. He maintained a strong interest in Sutton Hoo and last visited the site in June 1985 where he was able to witness work being undertaken by Professor Martin Carver.

    Stuart Piggott (1910-1996)

    Stuart Piggott (Ben Chaplin) was fascinated by archaeology from a young age. He had worked for various organisations and excavated at numerous sites, including Avebury. It was during this time he started to become an expert on prehistoric Wessex. Despite his knowledge, he didn’t formally qualify in the subject until 1936 after studying at the Institute of Archaeology, where he met Peggy Preston. During the Second World War he was posted to India which became a new area of interest and he published works on the archaeology of the country. After returning to Britain, Stuart Piggott continued his career. In 1946 he became the Abercromby Chair in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and for several years he was a trustee of The British Museum. In her later years Peggy visited him regularly and they shared the role of President of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society until their deaths.

    “The film catches her straight out of university and right at the beginning of her incredible journey. She was an archaeologist for almost 60 years and you just have this sense she had a full life and was brave. She achieved so much against all the odds she’s an inspiration.”

    Lily James on Peggy Piggott

    Charles Phillips first visited the Sutton Hoo site on 6th June 1939, following the correspondence with Basil Megaw at the Manx Museum. Charles Phillips was astonished by what he saw, suggesting that the sheer size of the ship could mean it was a royal burial. Both Guy Maynard and Charles Phillips contacted the British Museum. Meetings were arranged between Edith Pretty, the British Museum, the Office of Works, Charles Phillips, Ipswich Museum and the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology to discuss how best to continue. It was decided that Charles Phillips should oversee the work, a position he entered in to on 10th July, with Basil Brown assisting him.

    The relationship between Charles Phillips and Basil Brown was one of mutual respect. Charles Phillips was complimentary towards the careful way Basil Brown had excavated the ship. As Basil Brown was employed by Edith Pretty, he wisely remained neutral in any disputes that arose and continued to work alongside Charles Phillips and his team. Tensions did however begin to rise between Charles Phillips and Ipswich Museum.

    There was some political background to this both James Reid Moir and Guy Maynard were heavily involved in the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia throughout the 1920s and 30s. Increasingly, members joined from outside East Anglia and they witnessed the transformation of this organisation into the (national) Prehistoric Society with key members including Charles Phillips, the Piggotts and OGS Crawford. These tensions heightened when Charles Phillips assembled his support team of Peggy and Stuart Piggott. Together, the team began to excavate the burial chamber and on 21st July Peggy Piggott unearthed the first items of gold in the form of the two sword pyramids.

    As the team continued to excavate more and more gold emerged from the sandy Sutton Hoo soil. Basil Brown even postponed his planned trip home to see his wife, May, in order to stay and watch as the team carefully exposed more items. Naturally, the discovery of such incredible items only served to heighten the importance of the site and security became an issue. The first gold items had been moved from the Royal Burial Ground to Sutton Hoo House by Basil Brown and Edith Pretty under the watchful eye of William Spooner (gamekeeper) armed with his shotgun. Items began to be sent to the British Museum for study and conservation work to commence. Unfortunately, tensions rose again when Guy Maynard visited the site only to discover gold items had already been removed to London and Charles Phillips had not informed him. At this stage Charles Phillips also invited OGS Crawford and WF Grimes to assist with the excavation work. OGS Crawford became one of the first photographers of the excavation and photographed many of the objects before they left the ground.

    The elation at the discovery of the finds led Edith Pretty to organise a sherry party with select guests invited to see the ship on Tuesday 25th July. The earth beside the excavation was shaped specially to provide a viewing platform and the police guard was instated to keep a watchful eye on proceedings with PC Ling brought in from Sutton and PC Grimsey from Melton. All had to be careful not to reveal too much information, as the discovery had not yet been reported in the press. Charles Phillips gave a short speech about the ship, only to be drowned out by the roar of a Merlin engine emanating from a Spitfire flying overhead. The threat of war was looming over England at the time. Although no planes ever crashed at Sutton Hoo, late in the Second World War a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, Little Davy II, plummeted into the River Deben not far from the site. Only two survived.

    Relations continued to worsen between Charles Phillips and Ipswich Museum, whose involvement had become greatly restricted. Following rainfall, Edith Pretty had requested that no further visitors could stand on the viewing platform for fear of the sandy soil giving way. Guy Maynard led some guests, including the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, on to the platform only to be ordered down by Charles Phillips, humiliating Guy Maynard in the process.

    On the 26th July the story started to appear in t he press. The team now found themselves under increasing pressure with journalists swarming their homes and offices. Guy Maynard had given the full story to the East Anglian Daily Times along with images, without consulting Charles Phillips. Security was heightened until on 31st July the last van bound for the British Museum left Sutton Hoo, shortly followed by Charles Phillips’ excavation team.

    The next team to arrive on site were from The Science Museum. In August they surveyed the fossil of the ship. At the same time arrangements were being made for the treasure trove inquest which would determine who was the legal owner of the objects.

    Mercie Lack & Barbara Wagstaff

    In the novel and the film, the photographer at Sutton Hoo is the fictional Rory Lomax (Johnny Flynn). The real key photographers of the excavation were Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff. They were teachers and close friends, on holiday in the area, with a keen interest in both archaeology and photography. Between the 8th and 25th August they captured 400 images and an 8mm cine film. Their images were generously given to the National Trust by Mercie Lack’s great nephew, Andrew Lack, and have recently been conserved and digitised.

    May Brown (née Oldfield 1897-1983)

    Dorothy May Brown (Monica Dolan) first met Basil Brown in Cromer on a day out. At the time she was in service to a family from Norwich who spent their summers on the coast. They married in 1923. She was a great champion for him throughout his career and supported their income with various jobs including cleaning,
    looking after local children (they never had children of their own), and writing for the local
    press. They regularly exchanged letters whilst he was at Sutton Hoo and she wrote personally
    to Edith Pretty thanking her for giving him the opportunity. In recognition of her gift to the nation, Edith Pretty was offered a CBE in December 1940. She declined. For all of those involved, despite only being brought together for a short space of time, Sutton Hoo remained a special highlight throughout the rest of their careers and many of the relationships that they established continued. Sadly, Guy Maynard and Charles Phillips’ relationship did not improve. Charles Phillips avoided Ipswich Museum until Guy Maynard retired in 1952. Basil Brown revisited the site in 1947 and reunited with William Spooner and John Jacobs. Edith Pretty did not live to see the full impact of her gift. She died in 1942.

    The Dig covers the story of the 1939 excavations but, as remarkable as the excavations that year were, the Royal Burial Ground has been subject to numerous other archaeological campaigns which have helped to improve our understanding of this special landscape, and the world of the Anglo-Saxons.

    1965-1971: Following the end of the Second World War the finds were removed from storage and conservation/reconstruction work began. This work led to further questions around the Great Ship Burial, so the decision was taken to re-excavate the area. A team led by Rupert Bruce Mitford (of the British Museum) and Paul Ashbee oversaw this work. The imprint of the ship was exposed once more, having suffered some damage after the Royal Burial Ground had been used as a military training area, and was fully excavated including the area below the imprint of the ship. The massive advances in science made since the war also allowed the team to conduct further analysis of the site.

    1983-1992: Whilst much work had been undertaken on the Great Ship Burial large areas of the Royal Burial Ground had not been investigated after Basil Brown’s work was cut short by the Second World War. A much larger programme of excavation commenced in 1983 under the expert eye of Professor Martin Carver. This excavation included the discovery of Mound 17 which contained a young warrior and his horse, Mound 14 which contained the only known high status female burial on the site, and 39 slightly later execution burials which had been preserved in the sand.

    2000: Prior to building our Visitor Centre during 2000, the area of another hoo peninsula was investigated by Suffolk County Council archaeology unit. An additional Anglo-Saxon cemetery was revealed, predating the Royal Burial Ground. Archaeologists went on to find 13 cremations and 9 burials in the area excavated, five of which were under small burial mounds. Not quite as grand as the ship burials, these were the graves of residents from a variety of low to relatively high status families. Women had been buried with everyday items including combs, bowls, small knives, shoulder brooches and beads. Spears and shields were found in many of the male graves. Despite their lower status, it’s quite possible that these were the grandparents and great grandparents of East Anglian kings, such as those laid to rest in the Royal Burial Ground many years later.

    As Sutton Hoo is open all year round sadly it wasn’t possible for the Netflix team to undertake any filming on site. With the key story being the excavation of the Great Ship Burial there was naturally a need to show excavation in action, something not possible on the real-life Royal Burial Ground which is a scheduled monument. However, the team at Netflix went to great lengths to capture the magic of the Sutton Hoo landscape in their recreation of the Royal Burial Ground. Several cast members also visited Sutton Hoo to get a feeling of the place and the story. In return a few lucky members of staff and volunteers were invited to visit the film set. The replica artefacts used in the film were of the highest quality, some of them were made by the same craftspeople who made the replica items on display in our exhibition spaces. Whilst no filming took place at Sutton Hoo, several scenes were filmed locally with locations including Butley, Thorpeness and Snape.

    Despite the large number of archaeological campaigns undertaken at Sutton Hoo there are still undoubtedly secrets hidden in the soil. Several areas of the Royal Burial Ground have not been excavated. Excavation, although a proven method of exploring the past, is a destructive process and once something has been completely excavated it is gone forever. By leaving some areas undisturbed it not only means there is something for future generations to discover, it also means we can hold off whilst non-invasive techniques develop. Several non-invasive archaeological techniques have already been deployed at Sutton Hoo. Their use reflects just how much new techniques have developed since the first excavations took place.

    None of them existed when Basil Brown was working at Sutton Hoo in the 1930s. The most prominent of these are the various forms of archaeological mapping undertaken using geophysics. Surveys using electrical resistance equipment, magnetometry, ground penetrating radar and lidar have all been partially undertaken at Sutton Hoo building up a picture of what lies beneath our feet. As part of our National Lottery Heritage Funded project, Releasing the Sutton Hoo Story, we have been able to purchase our own electrical resistance meter and a dedicated team of volunteers are now surveying further areas of the site with assistance from visitors. Other non-invasive techniques have also been used to inform our understanding of this site. Field walking surveys have been undertaken along with metal detecting surveys of key areas. As landscape archaeology emerged as a discipline in the late 20th century it has expanded the story beyond Sutton Hoo placing it into the wider context of Anglo Saxon England. All these methods are also currently being used to investigate the nearby Anglo-Saxon royal settlement of Rendlesham, as part of the Rendlesham Revealed project, which will further add to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia.

    Reproduced from Digging the Dirt: the true story behind The Dig by kind permission of the National Trust.


    RELATED ARTICLES

    Four ceramic vessels were placed outside this container, but still within the grave. The vessels are jars made from local clays and would usually have been used for food preparation, cooking and storage

    Pictured, X-rays and initial conservation of the sword. Analysis revealed detailed copper-alloy decoration at the scabbard mouth, which would have been highly visible when the sword was worn in life

    Builders working on 175 new homes on the outskirts of Walberton, near Chichester stumbled across the remains and archaeologists were drafted in to study the grave

    The grave dates back to the late Iron Age/early Roman period (first century BC to AD50).

    X-rays and initial conservation of the sword and scabbard reveal detailed copper-alloy decoration at the scabbard mouth, which would have been highly visible when the sword was worn in life.

    Dotted lines on the X-ray may be the remains of a studded garment worn by the occupant when buried.

    This is particularly exciting for the archaeologists, as evidence of clothing rarely survives.

    The grave also held the remains of a wooden container, preserved as a dark stain, probably used to lower the individual into the grave.

    Four ceramic vessels were placed outside this container, but still within the grave.

    The vessels are jars made from local clays and would usually have been used for food preparation, cooking and storage.

    It is likely that they were placed in the grave as containers for funerary offerings, perhaps intended to provide sustenance for the deceased in the afterlife.

    Archaeologists are continuing to investigate this new discovery and hope to find out more about the identity and social status of the individual, and the local area and landscape around that time.

    WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT IRON AGE BRITAIN?

    The Iron Age in Britain started as the Bronze Age finished.

    It started around 800BC and finished in 43AD when the Romans invaded.

    As suggested by the name, this period saw large scale changes thanks to the introduction of iron working technology.

    During this period the population of Britain probably exceeded one million.

    This was made possible by new forms of farming, such as the introduction of new varieties of barley and wheat.

    The invention of the iron-tipped plough made cultivating crops in heavy clay soils possible for the first time.

    Some of the major advances during included the introduction of the potter's wheel, the lathe (used for woodworking) and rotary quern for grinding grain.

    There are nearly 3,000 Iron Age hill forts in the UK. Some were used as permanent settlements, others were used as sites for gatherings, trade and religious activities.

    At the time most people were living in small farmsteads with extended families.

    The standard house was a roundhouse, made of timber or stone with a thatch or turf roof.

    Burial practices were varied but it seems most people were disposed of by 'excarnation' - meaning they were left deliberately exposed.

    There are also some bog bodies preserved from this period, which show evidence of violent deaths in the form of ritual and sacrificial killing.

    Towards the end of this period there was increasing Roman influence from the western Mediterranean and southern France.

    It seems that before the Roman conquest of England in 43AD they had already established connections with lots of tribes and could have exerted a degree of political influence.

    After 43AD all of Wales and England below Hadrian's Wall became part of the Roman empire, while Iron Age life in Scotland and Ireland continued for longer.


    Lindisfarne

    Our main goal this season is to understand the furnace area, and we’re making great progress already. We can already see that it’s much larger than initially thought, with more pits and spreads of metalworking dotted around.

    But things are starting to get really interesting: on one side of the big circular feature, there’s a squareish stone stucture, with a skeleton inside. We’re currently trying to figure out if it’s a flue or stokehole into which a burial has later been placed, or whether it’s a very substantial stone-lined grave that has been dug into the furnace decades or centuries after it went out of use.

    Nov 24 2020 - 5:00 PM

    Ready to join us in 2021? Crowdfunding beings 8th December 2020!

    After a year of cancelling, postponing and changing our plans, we’ve never been more excited to announce our plans for our next field season!

    Our 2021 crowdfund will open on the 8th December, so set your alarms! Places on our digs do sell out very quickly, so we recommend booking as soon as you can, and we hope to see you in the not-too-distant future!

    Oct 1 2020 - 11:00 AM

    Site Diary: Our Best Discoveries from Lindisfarne (2020)

    An early medieval smithy, a handful of coins, and a burial with signs of a fatal headwound are among some of the most notable discoveries from this season’s community-powered excavation on Lindisfarne. We’re now…

    Sep 15 2019 - 10:00 PM

    Photos!

    Scroll through our album of photos from the last two weeks at Lindisfarne. Can you spot yourself? If you’ve got some you’d like to share, drop them into the Facebook Group Chat.

    Jun 25 2016 - 2:28 PM

    We’re starting to get the measure of the midden pits in T3. That’s some good looking stratigraphy! pic.twitter.com/EsUtomRpmr

    — DigVentures (@TheDigVenturers) June 25, 2016

    Sep 21 2020 - 1:00 PM

    Before and after the Viking raids (animation)

    We made a special animation to show you what the island looked like before and after the Viking raids, and bring to life some of the discoveries we’ve made over the last few years. Enjoy!

    Archaeologists Return!

    DigVentures will lead a two-week excavation in June 2016, to investigate the geophysics results and establish whether they are indeed the remains of Oswald’s Anglo-Saxon monastery.

    Geophysical Survey

    Archaeologists carried out a village-wide geophysical survey, and discovered a number of areas containing remains (including some near the Norman Priory), which may relate to the original Anglo-Saxon monastery.

    Tantalising Hints

    A series of small excavations took place across Lindisfarne ahead of construction work, providing tantalising hints of Anglo-Saxon and other early medieval features across the village.

    Major Archaeological Work

    Archaeologists from Leicester and Lampeter Universities investigated the north side of the island, and found a range of sites including flint scatters from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and an important early medieval farmstead at Green Shiel.

    Brian Hope-Taylor Arrives

    Leading archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor started work on Lindisfarne having previously excavated the major Anglo-Saxon palace nearby at Yeavering. On Lindisfarne, he excavated a series of trenches along The Heugh, and several trenches in a field to the west of St Mary’s Church. Only recently have his notes and plans become accessible.

    Clearing the Norman Priory

    The overgrown ruins of the later Norman Priory were cleared in order to present them to the public. A large number of archaeological finds were recovered amongst them were fragments of Anglo-Saxon sculpture, suggesting that the original monastery lies somewhere near the later priory.

    Rediscovering the Anglo-Saxons

    Historians had always known about the Anglo-Saxon history of Lindisfarne, but it wasn’t until in the late 19th century that the first remains from this period were found. A small collection of Anglo-Saxon stone carvings was placed in the parish church.

    Romantic Ruins

    Life for the villagers on Lindisfarne in the 18th century was dominated by fishing and farming, with the lime industry becoming increasingly important in the 19th century. The picturesque ruins of the Norman Priory became a common subject for Romantic artists.

    Cannons and Castles

    In the 17th century, Lindisfarne held an important strategic role on an unstable border with Scotland. Lindisfarne Castle was built, and together with Osbourne’s Fort, which lies on the east end of The Heugh, it protected the important harbour on the island.

    Dissolution and Defence

    In the mid-16th century Henry VIII abolished all English monasteries, including Lindisfarne Priory, and it was soon turned into a fortified military base. Although not all the planned defences were built, a naval supply base was constructed to the north at the site known as The Palace.

    Scottish Wars

    Lindisfarne stood on a troubled frontier. North Northumberland was the site of many battles between England and Scotland, with the Scottish kings regularly raiding the area. As a result, the monks took the unusual decision to provide the monastery with defences.

    Refounding the Monastery

    After the Norman conquest, and its destruction at the hands of Viking and Scottish raiders, the monastery at Lindisfarne was re-built, with the new monastic church and buildings re-constructed to look like those at Durham. The ruins of these structures can still be seen on Lindisfarne.

    Raids

    The Anglo-Saxon monastery on the island faced the wrath of raiders, both from Viking lands and from the increasingly powerful Scottish kingdoms to the north. Even then, it’s clear that some monks remained on Lindisfarne continuing to maintain the church and monastery.

    Leaving the Island?

    The most important monks gathered together the holy relics from the monastery and left the island, seeking shelter from the Viking raids. After spending just over a century moving around Northern England, the monks finally found a new home in Durham in AD995, where the relics still lie.

    Thunder from the North

    Lindisfarne was one of the first places in England to suffer a major attack by Vikings. Its wealth and exposed location on the North Sea coast made it a tempting target to Scandinavian raiders.

    A Golden Age

    During its Golden Age, Lindisfarne attracted many pilgrims to the shrine of St Cuthbert and was supported by the mighty kings of Northumbria, one of the most powerful kingdoms in Anglo-Saxon England. Under their patronage the monastery acquired large estates in Northumberland and beyond.

    The Lindisfarne Gospels

    Famous for its intricate designs and finely crafted decorations, this gospel book was probably created as part of the process of building the cult of St Cuthbert, a prominent monk at Lindisfarne. The Lindisfarne Gospels are one of the highlights of early medieval art.

    Making a Saint

    In this year the body of St Cuthbert was removed from his grave in the main church and placed in a new shrine. This marked the beginning of a new cult centred on his relics which attracted many pilgrims to Lindisfarne.

    Age of Cuthbert

    Cuthbert was born in the Scottish borders and first became a monk at Melrose, before becoming head of the monastery on Lindisfarne in AD655. Although he eventually became a Bishop, he spent his final years as a hermit on the island of Inner Farne just across the sea from Lindisfarne.

    Founding the Monastery

    Oswald, the new king of Northumbria, founded the monastery on Lindisfarne with the help of Aidan, a monk from the Scottish monastery of Iona. This introduced a distinctly Scottish and Irish strain of Christianity to Northumbria.

    Siege!

    The early medieval text, Historia Brittonum states that the British warrior king Urien of Rheged besieged the Angles and defeated them on Lindisfarne.

    Beyond the Roman World

    Lindisfarne lies nearly 50 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall and was only briefly part of the Roman Empire. Only a few fragments of Roman pottery have been found on the island, although the Roman road known as the Devil’s Causeway ran nearby on the mainland heading towards Scotland.

    Iron Age Warriors and Farmers

    The mainland opposite Lindisfarne was heavily occupied during the Iron Age cropmarks have shown traces of defended farmsteads and hillforts. There is limited evidence for activity on Lindisfarne, although a possible enclosure was found in a geophysical survey in 2012.

    Harvesting the Shore

    Small bands of prehistoric hunters and gatherers use the island for its many sources of food, including fish, wild birds and seals. Archaeologists have found their flint tools on the north side of Lindisfarne.

    Oct 1 2020 - 11:00 AM

    Site Diary: Our Best Discoveries from Lindisfarne (2020)

    An early medieval smithy, a handful of coins, and a burial with signs of a fatal headwound are among some of the most notable discoveries from this season’s community-powered excavation on Lindisfarne. We’re now…

    Sep 5 2020 - 11:00 AM

    Site Diary: What we’re hoping to find in 2020

    We’re back on Lindisfarne, getting ready to start our fifth season of excavation on the island so that we can continue to investigate the early medieval community who lived here before, during and after…

    Sep 15 2019 - 10:30 PM

    Site Diary: Our Best Discoveries On Lindisfarne So Far (2019)

    This year, we’ve had so many great discoveries at Lindisfarne that we couldn’t fit them all in one video! It’s the end of our fourth crowdfunded dig at Lindisfarne and this year, we’ve made…

    Sep 15 2019 - 10:00 PM

    Photos!

    Scroll through our album of photos from the last two weeks at Lindisfarne. Can you spot yourself? If you’ve got some you’d like to share, drop them into the Facebook Group Chat.


    Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Sarah Lucas, U.S. Army

    U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Sarah Lucas served 18 months in the Army Reserves and 16 years of active duty as a combat medic, hospital medic, instructor and flight medic on a UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter. She is the wife to a 30-year Marine Veteran and a mother to 4 children one being a Coast Guard Veteran. She continues to aid her military brethren as a Veteran Ambassador with Boot Campaign.

    After attending the University of Arizona in her hometown of Tucson, she enlisted as a combat medic in 1992 and was first stationed on active duty in Korea, in 1993. Before reaching active duty status, she was part of a U.S. Army Reserve Center in Tucson for one year and then moved for six more months to a reserve unit in Milwaukee, Wis., before receiving orders for active duty at the Troop Medical Clinic in Yongsan, Korea. After a year overseas, she was reassigned in 1994 to Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute in Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, where she served three years as an instructor for the Combat Casualty Care Course (C-4) and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support course (PHTLS).

    In 1997, she was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was a flight medic with 236th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) until 2000. From there, she was transferred back to the U.S. to serve as a medical treatment sergeant for two years at the 64th Forward Support Battalion&#39s Aid Station at Fort Carson, Colo. From 2002-2005, she was a Non-Commissioned Officer in Command (NCOIC) of the Medical Team under the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) of the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade at Fort Lee, Va.

    In 2005, she deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Eskan Village, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was the NCOIC of the medical training team for forwarding deploying units for four months. She then was deployed to Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar for 6 months. As part of a 10-person Joint Force Protection Assessment Team, she traveled to Oman, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE, Dubai and Saudi Arabia on assignment.

    SSG Lucas came back to America in 2006 and was stationed at the 6th Ranger Training Battalion&#39s Troop Medical Clinic on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where the Staff Sergeant finished her active duty before medically retiring in 2009 from back injuries sustained in a training accident in early 2002. Her distinguished career in the Army netted two Joint Service Commendation medals, two Army Commendation medal, two Army Achievement medals and five Good Conduct medals.

    After retirement, she returned to school at George Mason University where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 2013. In that same year, while deployed, her husband sustained a non-combat related injury and Lucas spent approximately 27 days by his side during his recovery at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C. Her experience of being on both sides of the health care system propelled her to dedicate her time and effort in becoming an advocate for veterans and their families with Boot Campaign. She also began her career working with military families as an Exceptional Family Member Program Case Liaison in assisting families members with disabilities in locating resources at their duty stations.

    SSG Lucas’ husband retired from the Marine Corps in 2018 and they both relocated to Denver, CO to pursue their education, he as a Gunsmith and SSG Lucas as a Rehabilitation Counselor in the Graduate program at University of Northern Colorado.

    The Lucas’ have four children, Kyle, a Coast Guard Veteran and engaged to Clarissa, Micah engaged to Emma, Bryanna married to Josh Smith with one daughter, Rebecca and a girl due in December 2020 and the youngest, Quentin, a Deputy Sheriff and very single. They have 2 dogs, Gunner (7) and Cheyenne (6 mo).

    She enjoys volunteering, RVing full-time, riding her motorcycle, hunting, kayak fishing, hiking, cooking, geocaching, movie going and the Hallmark Channel.


    New interactive Anglo-Saxon gallery at Tamworth Castle is ‘battling’ forward

    Building transformation works are now complete in Tamworth Castle for an exciting new ‘Battle and Tribute’ exhibition that will transform the top floor of the castle to an Anglo-Saxon, interactive tribute

    The top floor of the ancient castle has been completely altered and improved, including the upgrading of infrastructure, a new ceiling and lighting, as well as conservation repairs to walls and windows. This has made way for the final installation of a brand new exhibition dedicated to the town’s rich Anglo-Saxon heritage.

    Funded in large part by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the new £768,050 ‘Battle and Tribute’ display will turn the space into an interactive exhibition bringing Tamworth’s dramatic and exciting Anglo-Saxon history to life. This will include the creation of a mead hall, an immersive combat film experience and a unique touch-table battle strategy game.

    The interpretation elements of the exhibition will be completed subject to Covid-19 restrictions and guideline changes. A significant part of the new exhibition will be the creation of an immersive combat film for visitors to understand something of what it took to be an Anglo Saxon warrior. However, filming is being delayed due to the Covid-19 restrictions which prevent the re-enactment groups from gathering to film the footage required.

    The appointed design consultants are now looking to complete the 3D design of the exhibition before it is formally approved by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

    The 3D design includes developing some elements of an archaeological excavation and wood panelling and carvings for the Mead Hall.

    As part of the exhibition, Tamworth Castle will be getting even more pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard to display, alongside items from the castle’s collection. It will explore many exciting aspects of the Staffordshire Hoard including themes of battle, Kingship and the warrior culture in Anglo-Saxon Mercia.

    ‘Battle and Tribute’ has been made possible thanks to £499,900 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with the remainder of the cost being provided by Tamworth Borough Council, the Ready to Borrow Scheme supported by the Arts Council England and Friends of Tamworth Castle.

    Young people of Tamworth have also been helping to give the new gallery the launch it deserves by creating shields which will be used to create a dramatic display around the perimeter of the castle.

    Cllr Jeremy Oates, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Heritage and Growth, said: “It’s been a challenging few months with the recent restrictions on working and lockdown constraints. However, the plans for the state-of-the-art Battle and Tribute gallery are very impressive and unlike anything we’ve had at the castle before.

    “As part of sharing our historical Tamworth story, it will really bring our rich Anglo-Saxon history to life, including the role of our famous warrior queen Aethelflaed. This will also add context and be the perfect showcase for an increased number of items from the Staffordshire Hoard, displaying how this incredible treasure trove fits into the wider history of the Kingdom of Mercia and beyond.”

    “We look forward to its completion and to opening this exciting exhibition to visitors safely when Covid-19 restrictions allow.”

    For more information on the castle please visit the website at: www.tamworthcastle.co.uk.

    The Staffordshire Hoard is owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils, and managed on their behalf by Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.


    Robert Pretty (1930-1988)

    Robert Pretty (Archie Barnes) was Edith Pretty’s son. Tragically, he was only 4 years old when his father passed away. The excavation was a source of great excitement for young Robert Pretty, who was seen excavating with a toy spade around the site. At the end of the excavation period Edith Pretty commissioned Dutch artist Cor Visser to paint portraits of them both. In his painting, generously donated to the National Trust by his son David Pretty and now on display in Tranmer House, he was depicted clutching a toy ship. The depth of his involvement in the excavations was revealed in 1987 when Professor Martin Carver’s team re-excavated Mound 2. When the team had reached the base of the back-fill from the previous excavation they discovered a pair of roller skates buried in the soil. Robert Pretty was just 12 when Edith Pretty passed away, at which point his aunt Elizabeth (Edith Pretty’s sister) cared for him.

    The true story of the excavation of the Great Ship Burial began in July 1937 at the unlikely location of Woodbridge Flower Show. It was here that Edith Pretty, who had long been interested in the burial mounds on her estate, first met with Vincent Redstone, a local historian who wrote to Ipswich Museum. Shortly afterwards Guy Maynard, curator of Ipswich Museum, visited the Sutton Hoo estate and the wheels were set in motion to explore the site, but little did they know that what would eventually be unearthed would completely transform our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period. In the following spring, arrangements were made between Edith Pretty, Guy Maynard, James Reid Moir (President of Ipswich Museum) and Basil Brown to begin excavating the site. Edith Pretty provided Basil Brown with accommodation and assistants in the form of Bert Fuller and Tom Sawyer who were labourers on the estate.

    Between June and August 1938 Basil Brown and his team excavated three mounds (today referred to as Mounds 2, 3 and 4). Within Mound 3, he unearthed the remains of a cremated man, along with a corroded iron axe-head, part of a decorated limestone plaque, fragments of pottery and the lid of a Mediterranean jug. Mound 2 revealed pieces of iron, which he recognised as ship rivets - although having been previously scattered by grave robbers, they did not immediately suggest a ship burial. He also recovered a piece of blue glass, a gilt bronze disc, iron knives and the tip of a sword blade. Mound 4 was the last of the 1938 season, and whilst it had a very shallow pit, and showed signs of having been robbed, careful excavation revealed some tantalising fragments of bronze, high-quality textile and bone. The objects were presented by Edith Pretty to Ipswich Museum where they were placed on display. The British Museum were also informed about the finds and Guy Maynard wrote several articles on them. There was still great intrigue over the contents of the largest mound, so a second season of excavation was arranged to commence on 8 May 1939.


    For the 1939 excavations Basil Brown was joined by William Spooner (gamekeeper) and John Jacobs (gardener). Just three days in John Jacobs called out that he had found a piece of iron. Basil Brown rushed over and recognised it as being a ship rivet. Excavation continued and, despite the excitement, he maintained his careful, methodical, approach.