On display

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

Object details

Length: 12.7 cm (linked together)
Width: 5.4 cm

Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty

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Shoulder clasps from the Sutton Hoo ship burial

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

These curved gold shoulder clasps are feats of astonishing craftsmanship. Each one is made in two halves, which are hinged and fastened by a strong pin. Their weight and the rows of loops on the back suggest that they were attached to a thick garment made of wool or padded linen. No trace of the garment survived in the grave.

The decoration on each half of the clasps is nearly identical. It comprises four panels containing an extraordinary combination of geometric stepped cell-work within borders of sinuous animal ornament, all immaculately executed in garnet cloisonné, chequerboard millefiori and intense opaque blue glass. In contrast, the four curved ends are filled with a bold design of two entwined boars made with some of the largest garnets known in Anglo-Saxon England. Their strong shoulders are picked out in large slabs of millefiori, their tusks in blue glass and their spiky crests and curly tails in deliberately small garnets. The boar, probably a symbol of ferocity, strength and courage, may be a reminder of the wearer’s qualities as a warrior. It is also used as a protective device by both men and women in early Anglo-Saxon England.

The model for these shoulder clasps is not known for certain, but they may be based on military prototypes, used to fasten armour and cuirasses in the Roman and Byzantine worlds.

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S. Marzinzik, Masterpieces: Early medieval art, (London, British Museum Press, 2013), no. 46

N. Adams, ‘Rethinking the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps and armour’, in: Intelligible Beauty: recent research on Byzantine jewellery, ed. C. Entwistle and N. Adams (London, British Museum Press), pp. 83–112

G. Williams, Treasures from Sutton Hoo, (London, British Museum Press, 2011)

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

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