Diameter: 29.8 cm
Height: 13.5 cm
Thickness: 0.1 cm
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
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Hanging bowl from the Sutton Hoo ship burial
Early medieval Celtic, late 6th–early 7th
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
This magnificent copper alloy hanging bowl is the largest of three found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial. It is an import from British peoples living beyond the Anglo-Saxon heartlands and was perhaps acquired as tribute or through a marriage alliance. Its discovery among other exotic imports confirms that it was highly valued. The bowl was in Anglo-Saxon hands for some time before it was buried, because it was repaired using silver patches decorated in with Anglo-Saxon style animals (‘Style II’).
Hanging bowls were designed to be hung by hooked mounts from three or four rings fixed to the rim. This bowl, made of thin copper alloy sheet, has elaborately ornamented and inlaid hook-mounts, with extra ornamental square mounts in between. There is a further disc-shaped mount under the base and inside, uniquely, a free-standing copper alloy fish that could rotate. The mounts are decorated with red, blue and pale green enamel and brightly patterned millefiori glass. The curving lines and abstract patterns are typical of early medieval Celtic art from Britain and Ireland and it has been argued that this bowl was made in Ireland.
The silvery (tinned) fish ‘swimming’ inside is a clue to the bowl’s original use. It may have held water for hand-washing after a feast, or perhaps something stronger for drinking.
Google Cultural Institute
G. Williams, Treasures from Sutton Hoo, (London, British Museum Press, 2011)
R. L. S. Bruce-Mitford, The corpus of late Celtic hanging-bowls, with an account of the bowls found in Scandinavia, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005), no. 88
J. Brenan, Hanging bowls and their context, BAR British Series 220 (Oxford, Tempus Reparatum, 1991)
M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings?, (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
A.C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
R. L. S. Bruce-Mitford, ed. A. C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship-burial, volume 3.1: Late Roman and Byzantine silver, hanging-bowls, drinking vessels, cauldrons and other containers, textiles, the lyre, pottery bottle and other items, (London, British Museum Press, 1983), pp. 206–243