The Sutton Hoo ship

Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300–1100 

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The ship buried at Sutton Hoo is the largest Anglo-Saxon ship yet unearthed. It was 27 metres long, dug deep into the yellow sand in a tight-fitting trench beneath Mound 1. The ship looks almost perfect in photographs taken during excavations in 1939. In fact its oak planks had decayed, leaving only an outline that was studded with iron rivets.

The ship was ‘clinker built’, using overlapping planks. It had rowlocks for oars and space for up to 40 oarsmen. The ship may also have been used with a sail, although none survived. The design is similar to another smaller ship found at Sutton Hoo and a third ship buried nearby at Snape. This suggests that river and sea voyages were common, and that shipwrights worked alongside other craftsmen for the ruling classes in the early AD 600s.

The ship had been repaired several times, indicating that it was not built especially for the burial. It was probably dragged uphill from the River Deben, which flows beneath the burial ground at Sutton Hoo. Much effort and many people would have been involved, giving further hints about the status of the man buried in Mound 1. Excavations also showed that the ship slipped as it was eased into the burial trench. This damaged the stern, and it lay tilted to one side in the trench. The ship’s back was then broken by the heavy burial chamber built in its centre.

The ship during excavation in 1939

Artist’s impression of the ship with a sail

Artist’s impression of the ship with oars

Find out more 

The treasure from Sutton Hoo is on display in Room 41. We also encourage people to visit the National Trust Visitor Centre at Sutton Hoo, which is open all year round. It is home to an award-winning exhibition hall that includes a full-size reconstruction of the burial chamber and superb replicas of the Mound 1 treasures. Original finds from Mound 17, such as a fine sword and glittering harness-fittings, are also on display. Outside, visitors can wander around the ancient burial mounds and see where the Sutton Hoo ship burial took place around 1400 years ago.