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Room 2: Highlights from the world of Sutton Hoo, AD 300–1100 

Object details

Diameter: 91.4 cm (as reconstructed)

Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty

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Shield from the Sutton Hoo ship burial (part-reconstruction)

Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England

A shield was a vital piece of kit for every early Anglo-Saxon warrior, but this one is by far the most lavish ever found. The round wooden board had decayed in the ground, but the metal fittings that were attached to it survived. Here the form of the original shield has been reconstructed, with oak-bark tanned cow-hide over lime wood boards.

The front of the shield was decorated with gilded emblems, including a bird-of-prey with a cruel beak and talons, and a six-winged dragon with snapping jaws. They evoke qualities like strength and courage which were appropriate to the shield’s bearer, and may also have been seen as protective. At the centre is a heavy iron boss, decorated with pairs of intertwined horses. Around the rim are gold foil panels covered with interlacing decoration and animal heads with beady garnet eyes. The shield was held by an iron grip behind the boss, which is embellished with bird and dragon-like heads.

The Sutton Hoo shield resembles examples known from the contemporary high status cemeteries in eastern Sweden. Together with the helmet, it suggests that East Anglia shared cultural links with this part of Scandinavia in the early Anglo-Saxon period.

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T. Dickinson, ‘Symbols of protection: The significance of animal-ornamented shields in early Anglo-Saxon England’, Medieval Archaeology, 49 (2005), pp. 109–116

A.C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

T. Dickinson and H. Härke, ‘Early Anglo-Saxon shields’, Archaeologia, 110 (1992), pp. 1–94

R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial-2, vol. 2: arms, armour and regalia (London, The British Museum Press, 1978)