Archaeologists explore ‘geophysical mysteries’ of graveyard in new dig at Sutton Hoo

March 13, 2024

<p>The steamship Lady Alice Kenlis on the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo estate </p>

A new dig is to be carried out at Sutton Hoo, which is known for the Anglo-Saxon ship burial discovered in 1939.

Archaeologists hope to build a greater understanding of the Suffolk site and learn more about an Anglo-Saxon cemetery which was discovered in 2000 during construction of a visitor centre.

The National Trust is working with TV and online show Time Team on the two-year research project, with a dig planned to begin June.

The steamship Lady Alice Kenlis on the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo estate

(James O. Davies/Historic England/PA Wire)

The conservation charity said the project will build on work by Time Team in 2021 and 2022, when ground penetrating radar surveys were carried out of the Royal Burial Ground and Garden Field.

Angus Wainwright, regional archaeologist for the National Trust, said: “Time Team’s geophysical survey identified several mysterious features in Garden Field.

“We want to determine if they are archaeology or geological features.

“To do this we are carefully planning for an archaeological dig in June.

“Garden Field has an extraordinary amount of archaeology in it, from prehistoric fields and possible burial mounds through to Roman settlements and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, but who knows what else may be hidden there.

“We know from previous work in this field, it’s likely we will find prehistoric flint tools and fragments of Anglo-Saxon objects from burials scattered through the plough soil, but working out what the mysterious geophysical anomalies are will be our focus.

“We hope to find evidence of the deep-time prehistory of Sutton Hoo and perhaps more information about the Anglo-Saxon cemetery, which we first discovered in 2000 when we were building the visitor centre.

“The approach will be painstaking, recording all the finds in 3D from the ground surface, down through the plough soil until we reach the undisturbed archaeology.”

<p>Tony Robinson and Dr Helen Geake at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk </p>

Tony Robinson and Dr Helen Geake at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk

(Time Team/PA Wire)

The ship burial is thought to have been the final resting place of King Raedwald, who ruled East Anglia in the seventh century.

Mr Wainwright said the 1939 discovery “not only stunned the archaeological world but set the scene for further exploration”.

“Later archaeological campaigns at Sutton Hoo helped solve mysteries left by the original dig and revealed more about life in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia,” he said.

“We can’t wait to see what this next chapter will bring.”

Members of the 1980s archaeological team who carried out a dig on the Royal Burial Ground will be involved in the latest project.

Tim Taylor, Time Team’s series producer and creator, said: “We are incredibly thrilled to expand our relationship with Sutton Hoo, delving deeper into the history of one of Britain’s most iconic sites.

“The story of Sutton Hoo has captured the world’s imagination, as we can see by the success of the award-winning film The Dig, and we hope to reveal yet another exciting chapter.”

Lady Alice Kenlis on the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk

<p> Lady Alice Kenlis on the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo estate in Suffolk</p>

(James O. Davies/Historic England/PA Wire)

Time Team expert Helen Geake said: “It feels so exciting that we can uncover a new area, a new part of the landscape.

“It’s a tantalising piece of the jigsaw puzzle that we’ve always known a bit about, but to be able to find something new and tangible would be truly amazing.”

Time Team will document the investigation, culminating in a documentary presented by Sir Tony Robinson.

Sir Tony said: “In all my years exploring archaeology, I never, ever thought that I would get a chance to be involved with an excavation of Sutton Hoo – that is so exciting.”

The National Trust will be working with archaeology volunteers to help support the project and there will be opportunities for visitors to see archaeology in action when the dig takes place.