Sutton Hoo ship-burial helmet
England, early 7th century AD
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This extraordinary helmet is very rare. Only four helmets dating to the early medieval period have been found so far in England: at Sutton Hoo, Benty Grange, Wollaston and York.
The helmet has panels decorated with interlacing Style II animal ornament and heroic scenes, motifs that were common in the Germanic world at this time. One scene shows two warriors, wearing horned helmets, holding short swords and down-turned spears. The other shows a mounted warrior trampling a fallen enemy, who in turn is stabbing the horse, a theme handed down from the Roman Empire.
The face-mask is the most remarkable feature of the helmet: it has eye-sockets, eyebrows and a nose, which has two small holes cut in it to allow the wearer to breathe freely. The bronze eyebrows are inlaid with silver wire and garnets. Each ends in a gilt-bronze boars-head - perhaps a symbol of strength and courage.
Placed against the top of the nose, between the eyebrows, is a gilded dragon-head that lies nose to nose with a similar dragon-head placed at the end of the low crest that runs over the cap. The nose, eyebrows and dragon make up a great bird with outstretched wings that flies on the helmet.
The helmet was badly damaged when the burial chamber collapsed. By precisely locating the remaining fragments as if in a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, the helmet has been rebuilt. A complete reconstruction has also been made.
Restoring the helmet
When found, this magnificent helmet was in hundreds of pieces. Pieces of rusted iron were mixed up with pieces of tinned bronze, all so corroded as to be barely recognizable.
The first restoration of the helmet was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968.
The Sutton Hoo ship-burial
In 1938, archaeologist Basil Brown was asked to investigate 18 low grassy mounds in Suffolk by a local land owner.
Historical sources mention people from regions called Angeln and Saxony arriving in England after the Romans left in AD 410. By the seventh century a number of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had formed.Anglo-Saxon England world culture