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In 1938, archaeologist Basil Brown was asked to investigate eighteen low grassy mounds by a local land owner, Mrs Edith Pretty. He began by opening Mound 3, quickly followed by Mounds 2 and 4. All had been robbed in antiquity, although the few scraps of once fine possessions hinted at high-status Anglo-Saxon burials.
In the spring and summer of 1939 Brown excavated the largest mound (Mound 1) and uncovered an undisturbed burial, the extraordinarily rich grave of an important early seventh-century East Anglian. Deeply buried beneath the large mound lay the ghost of a twenty seven metre long oak ship. At its centre was a ruined burial chamber built with a pitched roof. In this small room, once hung with textiles, the dead man lay surrounded by his possessions.
Since 1939 the cemetery has been excavated twice; first between 1965 and 1971 by the British Museum and second between 1983 and 1992, by the British Museum and the Society of Antiquaries of London. The 1965/1971 excavations were designed to answer questions about Basil Brown's excavations, particularly concerning the structure of the mound, the relationship of the ship to its burial trench and the structure of the ship. The cemetery was also surveyed for the first time, revealing the underlying prehistoric landscape.
The second phase of excavations, starting in 1983, had a very different brief - to examine the relationship of the cemetery to the surrounding landscape, to establish its extent and status and, finally, to examine several mounds and the flat land between. All these objectives were achieved.