In the summer of 1939, as World War Two loomed bleakly on the horizon, a discovery was made beneath the earth in a quiet corner of Suffolk on the east coast of England.

Archaeologists painstakingly brushed away layers of sandy soil to reveal the shape of a ship beneath a mound, and in the center of the ship they found a burial chamber full of the most extraordinary treasures. Although it took some time to understand what these finds were, and what they meant, the discovery would prove to be an Anglo-Saxon royal burial of incomparable richness and it would revolutionize our understanding of early England. The objects in the burial chamber were designed to signal power on earth and in the hereafter. Each object tells a story and reveals something about the person they accompanied into the afterlife. Weaponry such as a pattern welded sword suggests a great war leader, a lyre evokes a musician and poet, the exquisite gold and garnet craftsmanship on many items represent a patron of the arts whereas objects like the drinking horns speak of a generous host. Items such as the shield are thought to have been diplomatic gifts from Scandinavia and speak of someone both well respected and highly connected, whereas the shoulder clasps modelled on those worn by Roman emperors tell us of someone who borrowed from different cultures and power bases to assert their own authority. Together they form a potent piece of power poetry, likely the burial of a king.

We will never know for certain who was buried in the Great Ship Burial, but the leading theory is that it was King Rædwald of East Anglia, as someone important enough to have warranted such a burial and who died at around this time. Rædwald was part of the ruling Wuffing dynasty who claimed descent from Woden; the Germanic god who sacrificed his left eye for knowledge.

Sutton Hoo provides one of the richest sources of archaeological evidence for this period of the history of England's development. The discovery in 1939 changed our understanding of the some of the first chapters of English history and a time seen as backwards was illuminated as cultured and sophisticated. This story of discovery didn’t end in 1939 though, as our knowledge and understanding of the Anglo-Saxons of Sutton Hoo and their world is still changing and expanding. Some 1400 years ago, a community came together to haul a ship from the river within which they buried their king along with treasured possessions for his final journey. It was a public spectacle intended to be remembered for all time.

-National Trust, a Brief introduction to Sutton Hoo