Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Seven miles from the Deben River in Suffolk, England, is a large pagan cemetery named Sutton Hoo, which consists of seventeen burial mounds. The most impressive of these mounds contains a ninety-foot Anglo-Saxon ship buried beneath the earth. Atop the ship is a burial chamber that contained artifacts such as: a helmet, sword, shield, scepter, standard and a purse holding thirty-seven Merovingian coins. This ship-burial has intrigued scholars since it was discovered and subsequently excavated in 1939. Dozens of theories still circulate on the burial’s intended purpose and date as well as whether or not there was an individual buried within, and if so, who. This thesis will discuss the royal artifacts found inside the burial chamber of the ship and conclude, based on historical writings and physical evidence, that a body was interred and will identify the deceased. By regarding the artifacts as regalia, objects associated with kingship, it can be established that the grave is that of a supreme ruler. The issue of who is venerated by the ship-burial can best be determined by the proper dating of the burial itself. The dates are largely dictated by the coins and have changed several times in the sixty years since their discovery. The year of c. 625 A.D. was finally agreed upon by experts at the British museum. The vacillation in the dating of the coins has led to various hypotheses as to who was memorialized by the elaborate ship-burial and why. In this paper, the various theories as to the occupant of the mound will be addressed and scrutinized. Based on the evidence presented, I will conclude that the burial did contain a body and it is that of the seventh-century king of East Anglia, Rædwald, who died in c. 625. The artifacts included in the ship-burial are some of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship found in Britain. This single discovery changed not only Britain’s perception of their past, but the very definition of “the dark ages.”



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Committee Chair

Kirstin Noreen