Sutton Hoo helmet

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1970–1971 (current) reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet

The Sutton Hoo helmet is a decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet discovered during the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. Buried around 625, it is widely believed to have been the helmet of King Rædwald. The helmet is "the most iconic object" from one "of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries ever made," and one of the most important Anglo-Saxon artefacts ever found.[1] Excavated as hundreds of rusted fragments, the helmet was first displayed following an initial reconstruction in 1946–47, and then again, in its present form, after a second reconstruction in 1970–71.

Along with all the other finds from Sutton Hoo, the helmet was determined by a treasure trove inquest to be the property of the landowner of the site of the ship-burial, Edith May Pretty. She subsequently donated all the objects to the British Museum, where they were conserved and put on display; in 2017 the helmet was on view in Room 41.[2][3][4]


Main article: Sutton Hoo

The helmet was buried among other regalia and instruments of power as part of a furnished ship burial, probably dating from the early 7th century. Although the man in the grave has not been identified, the contents of the grave point to its being that of a king.[5] It is generally thought most likely that Rædwald, the ruler of the East Angles, is the person buried in the ship, due to the proximity of the royal vill of Rendlesham[5] and as use of the site is believed to have been a time when he held power in England.

The ship had been hauled from the nearby river up the hill and lowered into a prepared trench.[6][7] Inside this, the helmet was wrapped in cloths and placed to the left of the head of the body.[8][9] An oval mound was constructed around the ship.[10] Long afterwards, the chamber roof collapsed violently under the weight of the mound, compressing the ship's contents into a seam of earth.[11]

It is thought that the helmet was shattered either by the collapse of the burial chamber or by the force of another object falling on it.[12][13] However, the fact that the helmet had shattered meant that it was possible to be reconstructed. Had the helmet been crushed before the iron had fully oxidised, leaving it still pliant, the helmet would have been squashed,[13][14] leaving it in a distorted shape similar to helmets found at Vendel and Valsgärde.[15]


Colour photograph of a modern replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet.
Replica helmet showing designs 1, 2, 4 and 5, located (1) above the eyebrows and on the cheek guard, (2) on the skull cap, (4) on the cheek guard[note 1] and skull cap, and (5) on the face mask

The Sutton Hoo helmet was made of iron and covered with decorated sheets of tinned bronze.[16][17] Fluted strips of moulding divided the exterior into panels, each of which was stamped with one of five designs.[18][17] Two depict figural scenes, another two zoophormic interlaced patterns; a fifth pattern, known only from seven small fragments and incapable of restoration, is known to occur only once on an otherwise symmetrical helmet and may have been used to replace a damaged panel.[19][20] The existence of these five designs has been generally understood since the first reconstruction, published in 1947.[21][note 2] The succeeding three decades gave rise to an increased understanding of the designs and their parallels in contemporary imagery, allowing possible reconstructions of the full panels to be advanced, and—through the second reconstruction—their locations on the surface of the helmet to be redetermined.[20][28][29][30] As referred to below, the designs are numbered according to Rupert Bruce-Mitford's 1978 work.[20]

Dragon motifs[edit]

Black and white line drawing of the winged dragon motif from the front of the helmet, composed of four fragments: a dragon head, the two eyebrows forming the wings, and the nose and moustache piece forming the body and tail respectively.
The winged dragon motif from the front of the helmet, with eyebrows for wings and the nose and mouth piece for body and tail

Three dragon heads are represented on the helmet. Two bronze-gilt dragon heads feature on either end of the iron crest running from the front to the rear of the skull cap.[31] The third sits at the junction between the two eyebrows, facing upward and given fuller form by the eyebrows, nose and moustache to create the impression of a dragon in flight.[32] There it soars upwards in the "central and most dramatic feature of the entire helmet," baring its teeth at the "snake-like dragon" flying down the crest.[33]

To the extent that the helmet is jewelled, such decoration is largely confined to the elements associated with the dragons.[34] Convex garnets sunk into the heads give the dragons red eyes.[35][36] The eyebrows are likewise inlaid with square garnets on their under edges, continuing outwards on each side to where they terminate in gilded boars' heads;[37][38][39][40] in addition to their secondary decorative function as wings, the eyebrows may therefore take on a tertiary form as boars' bodies.[41] More gold covers the eyebrows, nose and mouth piece, and dragon heads, as it does the two fluted strips that flank the crest.[42] The crest and eyebrows are further inlaid with silver wires.[43][44][45][46] Combined with the silvery colour of the tinned bronze, the effect was "an object of burnished silvery metal, set in a trelliswork of gold, surmounted by a crest of massive silver, and embellished with gilded ornaments, garnets and niello—in its way a magnificent thing and one of the outstanding masterpieces of barbaric art."[47]

Design 1: the dancing warriors[edit]

Black and white photograph showing one of the four Torslunda plates
One of the four Torslunda plates, showing a horned figure similar to those in design 1. His missing left eye suggests that he is Odin.[note 3]

The dancing warriors scene is known from six fragments and occurs four times on the helmet.[49] It is seen on the two panels immediately above the eyebrows, accounting for five of the fragments. The sixth fragment is placed in the middle row of the dexter cheek-guard, on the panel closest to the face mask;[49][50] the generally symmetrical nature of the helmet thus implies the design's position on the opposite side as well.[23][51][52] None of the six pieces show both warriors, although the "key fragment" depicts their crossed wrists.[53][54] A full reconstruction of the scene was inferred after the first reconstruction, when Rupert Bruce-Mitford spent six weeks in Sweden and was shown a nearly identical design on the then unpublished Valsgärde 7 helmet.[22][55][56][57][58]

Design 1 pictures two men "in civilian or ceremonial dress"[54] perhaps engaged in a spear or sword dance[59][60] "associated with the cult of Odin, the war-god."[61][62] Their outer hands each hold two spears, pointed towards their feet,[53] while their crossed hands grip swords.[22] The depiction suggests "intricate measures," "rhythm," and an "elasticity of . . . dance steps."[63] Their trailing outer legs and curved hips imply movement towards each other,[64][65] and they may be in the climax of the dance.[65] The prevalence of dance scenes with a "similarity of the presentation of the scheme of movement" in contemporary Scandinavian and Northern art suggests that ritual dances "were well-known phenomena."[66] Sword dances in particular were recorded among the Germanic tribes as early as the first century AD, when Tacitus wrote of "[n]aked youths who practice the sport bound in the dance amid swords and lances," a "spectacle" which was "always performed at every gathering."[67][68][63] Whatever the meaning conveyed by the Sutton Hoo example, the "ritual dance was evidently no freak of fashion confined to a particular epoch, but was practised for centuries in a more or less unchanged form."[69]

While many contemporary designs portray ritual dances,[70] at least three examples show scenes exceptionally similar to that on the Sutton Hoo helmet and contribute to the understanding of the depicted sword dance. The same design—identical but for a different type of spears held in hand,[71] a different pattern of dress,[72] and a lack of crossed spears behind the two men[59]—is found on the Valsgärde 7 helmet, while a small fragment of stamped foil from the eastern mound at Gamla Uppsala is "so close in every respect to the corresponding warrior on the Sutton Hoo helmet as to appear at first glance to be from the same die," and may even have been "cut by the same man."[73] The third similar design is one of the four Torslunda plates (de),[74] discovered in Öland, Sweden, in 1870.[48] This plate, which is complete and depicts a figure with the same attributes as on design 1, suggests the association of the men in the Sutton Hoo example with "the cult of Odin."[61][62] The Torslunda figure is missing an eye, which laser scanning revealed to have been removed by a "sharp cut, probably in the original model used for the mould."[75] Odin too lost an eye, thus evidencing the identification of the Torslunda figure as him, and the Sutton Hoo figures as devotees of him.[61][62][75]

Design 2: rider and fallen warrior[edit]

Colour photograph showing the gold Pliezhausen bracteate, which depicts a scene nearly identical to design 2.
The Pliezhausen bracteate shows a scene nearly identical to design 2.

Eight fragments represent all known instances of the second design, accounting for its placement on a like number of panels.[76] It is surmised to have originally appeared twelve times on the helmet,[77] although this theory assumes that the unidentified third design—which occupies one of the twelve panels—was a replacement for a damaged panel.[78] Assuming so, the pattern occupied eight spaces on the lowest row of the skull cap (i.e., all but the two showing design 1), and two panels, one atop the other rising towards the crest, in the centre of each side.[79][80][81] All panels showing design 2 appear to have been struck from the same die.[82] The horse and rider thus move in a clockwise direction around the helmet, facing towards the rear of the helmet on the dexter side, and towards the front on the sinister side.[82]

Design 2 shows a mounted warrior, spear held overhead, trampling an enemy on the ground.[83] The latter leans upwards and, grasping the reigns in his left hand, uses his right hand to thrust a sword into the chest of the horse.[83] Atop the horse's rump kneels a "diminutive human, or at least anthropomorphic figure."[83] The figure is stylistically similar to the horseman. Its arms and legs are positioned identically, and, together with the rider, it clutches the spear with its right hand.[83]

As substantial sections of design 2 are missing, particularly from the "central area,"[84] reconstruction relies in part on continental versions of the same scene.[85] In particular, similar scenes are seen on the Valsgärde 7[86] and 8[87] helmets, and on the Pliezhausen bracteate (de).[88] The latter piece, in particular, is both complete and nearly identical to the Sutton Hoo design. Although a mirror image, and lacking in certain details depicted in design 2 such as the sword carried by the rider and the scabbard worn by the fallen warrior,[89] it suggests other details such as the small shield held by the kneeling figure.[90]

Design 3: unidentified figural scene[edit]

Black and white line drawings of the seven fragments that do not correspond to any known design on the helmet.
The seven unidentified fragments

Seven small fragments suggest a third figural scene somewhere on the Sutton Hoo helmet. They are nevertheless too small and ambiguous to allow for the reconstruction of the scene.[27] Its presence is suggested "not more than four times, and perhaps only once";[78] because other fragments demonstrate the occurrence of design 1[91] or design 2[92] on all seven available panels on the sinister side of the helmet, and on the forwardmost two panels on the dexter side (in addition to on the highest dexter panel), placement of design 3 "must have occurred towards the rear of the helmet"[78] on the dexter side.

That which remains of design 3 may suggest that a "variant rider scene" was employed to fix damage to a design 2 panel.[78] Fragment (a) for example shows groups of parallel raised lines running in correspondence "with changes of angle or direction in the modelled surface, which on the analogy of the Sutton Hoo and other rider scenes in Vendel art, strongly suggest the body of a horse."[93] Though smaller, fragment (d) shows similar patterns and suggests a similar interpretation.[78] Fragment (b), meanwhile, shows "two concentric raised lines two millimetres apart," and "appears to be a segment of the rim of a shield which would be of the same diameter as that held by the rider in design 2."[94]

The theory of design 3 as a replacement panel gains some support from damage towards the back of the helmet, yet is contradicted by the placement of fragment (c). The crest, complete for 25.5 cm (10.0 in) from front to back, is missing 2 cm (0.79 in) above the rear dragon head.[95] This head is itself mostly missing, and was entirely omitted from the 1946–47 reconstruction.[96][97][98] These missing portions are offered by Bruce-Mitford as a possible indication that the helmet at one time suffered damage necessitating the restoration of at least one design 2 panel with a new equestrian scene.[99] This theory does not explain why the rear crest and dragon head would not have been themselves repaired, however, and it is not helped by fragment (c). This fragment is an edge piece placed in the 1970–71 reconstruction on the dexter rear of the helmet at the bottom left of a panel where either design 2 or design 3 is expected, yet is "an isolated element quite out of context with any other surviving fragment and with what appears to be the subject matter of the design 3 panel."[94] Bruce-Mitford suggests that as it is an edge piece it may have originally been a scrap placed under another piece to fill a gap, for it is "otherwise inexplicable."[94][note 4]

Design 4: the larger interlace[edit]

Occurring on the cheek guards, the neck guard and the skull cap,[81] the larger interlace pattern was capable of a complete reconstruction.[101] Unlike the two identified figural scenes, partial die impressions of design 4 were used in addition to full die impressions.[101] Blank spaces on the skull cap and neck-guard, devoid of decorative designs, allowed for impressions of design 4 "that are either complete or nearly so."[102] On the cheek guards, by contrast, which are irregularly shaped and fully decorated, "the interlace designs are trimmed and sometimes turned on edge to fill awkward spaces."[103]

Design 4 depicts "a single quadruped in ribbon style."[104]

Design 5: the smaller interlace[edit]

The smaller interlace pattern covered the face-mask, was used prominently on the neck guard, and filled in several empty spaces on the cheek guards.[101] It is a zoomorphic design, like the larger interlace, and shows "two animals, upside down and reversed in relation to each other, whose backward-turning heads lie towards the centre of the panel."[105]

Context and parallels[edit]

Unique in many respects, the Sutton Hoo helmet is nevertheless inextricably linked to its Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian contexts. It is one of only four known Anglo-Saxon helmets—joined by those found at Benty Grange, Coppergate, and Wollaston—yet is closer in character to those from Vendel and Valsgärde. At the same time, the helmet shares many parallels with those characterised in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and, like the Sutton Hoo ship-burial as a whole, has had a profound impact on modern understandings of the poem.


Understandings of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial and Beowulf have been intertwined ever since the former's 1939 discovery. "By the late 1950s, Beowulf and Sutton Hoo were so inseparable that, in study after study, the appearance of one inevitably and automatically evoked the other. If Beowulf came on stage first, Sutton Hoo was swiftly brought in to illustrate how closely seventh-century reality resembled what the poet depicted; if Sutton Hoo performed first, Beowulf followed close behind to give voice to the former's dumb evidence."[106]


Black and white photograph taken before the second reconstruction, showing hundreds of fragments laid out individually and randomly on a white background.
The Sutton Hoo helmet in its fragmentary, unreconstructed state

The Sutton Hoo helmet was discovered over three days in July and August 1939, with only three weeks remaining in the excavation of the ship-burial. It was found in more than 500 pieces,[107] which would prove to account for less than half of the original surface area.[14] The discovery was recorded in the diary of C. W. Phillips as follows:

Friday, 28 July 1939: "The crushed remains of an iron helmet were found 4 feet [1.2 m] east of the shield boss on the north side of the central deposit. The remains consisted of many fragments of iron covered with embossed ornament of an interlace with which were also associated gold leaf, textiles, an anthropomorphic face-piece consisting of a nose, mouth, and moustache cast as a whole (bronze), and bronze zoomorphic mountings and enrichments."

Saturday, 29 July: "A few more fragments of the iron helmet came to light and were boxed with the rest found the day before."

Tuesday, 1 August: "The day was spent in clearing out the excavated stern part of the ship and preparing it for study. Before this a final glean and sift in the burial area had produced a few fragments which are probably to be associated with the helmet and the chain mail respectively."[108][12]

Black and white drawing showing the position of the objects as found in the burial chamber. Whereas fragments of objects such as the shield are individually marked, the helmet is noted only by a circle with the words "nucleus of helmet remains."
The helmet fragments were neither photographed nor recorded in situ, leaving only their general location known.

Although the helmet is now considered to be one of the most important artefacts ever found on British soil,[14][109] its shattered state caused it to go at first unnoticed. No photographs were taken of the fragments in situ, nor were their relative positions recorded,[14][13][12] as the importance of the discovery had not yet been realised.[16] When reconstruction of the helmet commenced years later, it would thus become "a jigsaw puzzle without any sort of picture on the lid of the box,"[14][13] not to mention a jigsaw puzzle missing half its pieces.

Overlooked at first, the helmet quickly gained notice. Even before all the fragments had been excavated, the Daily Mail spoke of "a gold helmet encrusted with precious stones."[110] A few days later it would more accurately describe the helmet as having "elaborate interlaced ornaments in silver and gold leaf."[111] Despite scant time to examine the fragments,[112][113] they were termed "magnificent";[114] "crushed and rotted"[115] and "sadly broken" such that it "may never make such an imposing exhibit as it ought to do,"[116] it was nonetheless thought the helmet "may be one of the most exciting finds."[115] The stag found in the burial—later placed atop the sceptre—was even thought at first to adorn the crest of the helmet,[116][117] in parallel to the boar-crested Benty Grange helmet. This theory would gain no traction, however, and the helmet would have to wait out World War II before reconstruction could begin.

Excavations at Sutton Hoo came to an end on 24 August 1939, and all items were shipped out the following day.[118] Nine days later, Britain declared war on Germany. The intervening time allowed "first-aid treatment of fragile objects and perishables," and for "the finds to be deposited in security."[119] Throughout World War II the Sutton Hoo artefacts, along with other treasures from the British Museum such as the Elgin Marbles,[120][121] were stored in Aldwych tube station.[2][109] Only at the end of 1944 were preparations made to unpack, conserve and restore the finds from Sutton Hoo.[58]

First reconstruction[edit]

Colour photograph, taken from the front against a white background, of the first reconstruction of the Sutton hoo helmet.
The 1947 restoration of the Sutton Hoo helmet was displayed for more than 20 years.
See also: Herbert Maryon

The helmet was first reconstructed by Herbert Maryon from 1946 to 1947. A retired professor of sculpture and authority on early metalwork, Maryon was specially employed as a Technical Attaché at the British Museum on 11 November 1944.[122] His job was to restore and conserve the finds from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, including "the real headaches – notably the crushed shield, helmet and drinking horns."[58] Maryon's work on the Sutton Hoo objects continued until 1950, of which six months "full-time and continuous" work was spent reconstructing the helmet.[123] Stalled for years by World War II and still in the fragmentary state in which it had entered the war, by the time it reached Maryon's workbench the "task of restoration was thus reduced to a jigsaw puzzle without any sort of picture on the lid of the box,"[14] and, "as it proved, a great many of the pieces missing."[17]

Efforts on the first reconstruction began with a "process of familiarisation"[124] with the various fragments;[16] each piece was traced and detailed on a "piece of stiff card", until after "a long while" reconstruction could commence.[16] For this, Maryon sculpted "a head of normal size" from plaster, then "padded the head out above the brows to allow for the thickness of the lining which a metal helmet would naturally require."[47] The fragments of the skull cap were then initially stuck to the head with plasticine, or, if thicker, placed into spaces cut into the head. Finally, "strong white plaster" was used to permanently affix the fragments, and, mixed with brown umber, fill in the gaps between pieces.[47] Meanwhile, the fragments of the cheek guards, neck guard, and visor were placed onto shaped, plaster-covered wire mesh, then affixed with more plaster and joined to the cap.[125]

Though visibly different from the current reconstruction, "[m]uch of Maryon's work is valid. The general character of the helmet was made plain."[25] The 1947 reconstruction identified the designs recognised today, and similarly arranged them in a panelled configuration.[126] Both reconstructions composed the visor and neck guards with the same designs: the visor with the smaller interlace (design 5), the neck guard with a top row of the larger interlace (design 4) above two rows of the smaller interlace.[127][128][129][81] The layout of the cheek guards is also similar in both reconstructions; the main differences are the added length provided by a third row in the second reconstruction, the replacement of a design 4 panel with the dancing warriors (design 1) in the middle row, and the switching of sides.[127][128][129][81]


Colour photograph of the first reconstruction, dexter side.
Criticisms of the first reconstruction noted its small size, seen by the projecting face mask; the unprotected jaw; the hole left between nose and crest; the plaster used to lengthen the crest; and the fixed neck guard.

The first reconstruction "was soon criticised, though not in print, by Swedish scholars and others."[14][130][note 5] A "basic fault" was the decision to arrange the fragments around the mould of an average man's head, possibly inadvertently predetermining the reconstruction's size.[133][134] Particular criticisms also noted its exposed areas, and a neck guard that was fixed rather than movable.[135][136][137] Though envisioned as similar to a "crash helmet of a motor cyclist" with padding of about 38 inch (9.5 mm) between head and helmet,[16] its size allowed for little such cushioning;[134][133][137] while one with a larger head would have had difficulty just getting it on.[137] The "cut-away" at the front of each cheek piece left the jaw exposed,[134][138] there was a hole between eyebrows and nose, and the "eye holes were so large" as to "allow a sword to pass through."[137] Meanwhile, as noted early on by Lindqvist,[131] the "angle of the face mask looked strange, not least because it rendered the wearer's nose vulnerable in the event of a blow to the face."[137]

A final issue raised by Maryon's construction was the use of plaster to elongate the crest by approximately 4 12 inches (110 mm).[26][139][140] The crest had largely survived its millennium of interment, perhaps given durability by the inlaid silver wires.[26][139][140] The need to replace missing portions was thus questioned;[26][139][140] it was thought that either Maryon had reconstructed the crest "to an undue length", or that original portions had been overlooked during the 1939 excavation.[26] When the ship-burial was re-excavated in the 1960s, one of the objectives was thus to search for more fragments, the absence of which could be treated as evidence that the crest had originally been shorter.[141]

Re-excavations at Sutton Hoo, 1965–70[edit]

Close-up colour photograph of two joining fragments on dexter cheek guard which together complete a hinge. The fragment on the left was discovered in 1967 during re-excavations at Sutton Hoo.
Discovered in 1967, the fragment on the left completed a hinge on the dexter cheek guard

Numerous questions were left unanswered by the 1939 excavation at Sutton Hoo, and in 1965 a second excavation began. Among other objectives were to survey the burial mound and its surrounding environment, to relocate the ship impression (from which a plaster cast was ultimately taken[142][143][144]) and excavate underneath, and to search the strata from the 1939 dumps for any fragments that may have been originally missed.[145][146][147] The first excavation had been "essentially a 'rescue dig'" under the threat of impending war,[148] creating the danger that fragments of objects might have been inadvertently discarded;[146][149] a gold mount from the burial was already known to have nearly met that fate.[150] Additional fragments of the helmet could hopefully shed light on the unidentified third figural design, or buttress Maryon's belief that 4 inches (100 mm) of the crest were missing.[26] To this end, the excavation sought "both positive and negative evidence."[151] New crest fragments could go where Maryon had placed plaster, while their absence could be used to suggest that the crest on the first reconstruction was too long.[141]

Four new helmet fragments were discovered during re-excavation.[152] The three 1939 dumps were located during the 1967 season, and "almost at once" yielded "fragments of helmet and of the large hanging bowl ... as well as fragments of shield ornaments and a tine from the stag."[148][153] The finds were so plentiful that a single three foot by one foot section of the first dump contained sixty cauldron fragments.[154] The four pieces of the helmet came from the second dump, which only contained items from the ship's burial chamber.[154] They included a hinge piece from the dexter cheek guard,[152] a "surface flake" from the crest,[154] a small piece of iron with fluted lines, and a small piece of iron edging showing part of the larger interlace design.[152]

The most important helmet finds from the re-excavation at Sutton Hoo were the piece from cheek guard, and the lack of any substantial crest piece. The fragment of the cheek guard joined another found in 1939,[152] together completing "a hinge plate for one of the moving parts of the helmet, which could not be done previously."[155] Meanwhile, although a "surface flake" from the crest was discovered, its placement did not affect the overall length of the crest.[156] The lack of significant crest finds instead "reinforce[d] scepticism of the long plaster insertions in the original reconstruction."[154]

Current reconstruction[edit]

Black and white photograph taken during the second reconstruction, showing the fragments positioned on a head-sized block of plaster and supported with pins
The helmet while being assembled for the second time. A dragon head has been positioned facing upwards so as to create the image of a dragon in mid-flight.

The current reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet was completed in 1971, following eighteen months work by Nigel Williams.[134] Williams had joined the British Museum in his teens after studying at the same Central School of Arts and Crafts as Maryon,[157][158][159] yet in contrast to Maryon, who completed the first restoration in his 70s and "with the use of only one eye,"[160] Williams reconstructed the helmet while in his mid-20s.[157]

In 1968, with problems evident in the first reconstruction that were left unresolved by the re-excavations at Sutton Hoo, the decision was made to reexamine the evidence.[137] "After several months' consideration" it was decided to disassemble the helmet and construct it anew.[137] The cheek guards, face mask and neck guard were first removed from the helmet and x-rayed, revealing the wire mesh covered in plaster and overlaid by fragments.[125] The wire was then "rolled back like a carpet", and a saw used to separate each fragment.[161] The remaining plaster was chipped away with a scalpel and needles.[161] The final piece of the helmet, the skull cap, was next cut in half by pushing off the crest with "long pins" inserted through the bottom of the plaster head and then slicing through the middle of the head.[162] The "central core of plaster" was then removed, and the remaining "thin skin of plaster and iron" separated into individual fragments "in the same way as the ear flaps, neck guard and face mask."[107] This process of separation took four months and left the helmet in more than 500 fragments.[107] "One of only two known Anglo-Saxon helmets, an object illustrated in almost every book on the early medieval period, lay in pieces."[107]

After four months of disassembly, work began on a new construction of the helmet. This work was advanced largely by the discovery of new joins, marked by several breakthroughs in understanding.[79][163] "Almost all" of the new joins were found by looking at the backs of the fragments, which retained "a unique blackened, rippled and bubbly nature,"[164][165] "wrinkled like screwed up paper and very black in colour."[124] The distinctive nature is thought to result from a "disintegrated leather lining permeated with iron oxide"[164][24]—indeed, this is the evidence substantiating the leather lining in the Royal Armouries replica[166]—and allowed for the fragments' wrinkles to be matched under a microscope.[50] In this manner the skull cap was built out from the crest, aided by the discovery that only the two fluted strips bordering the crest were gilded; the six fragments with gilded moulding were consequently found to attach to the crest.[50] The cheek guards, meanwhile, were shaped and substantially lengthened by joining three fragments from the sinister side of the first reconstruction with two fragments from the dexter side.[167] The exposed areas by the jaw left by the first reconstruction were only eliminated near the end of the second, when an expert on arms and armour advised that the cheek guards should simply switch sides.[168]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ The impression of design 4 on the top left corner of the replica cheek guard is actually upside down.
  2. ^ With that said, the evidence for the unidentified design has changed over time, from one piece which later turned turned out to be part of design 2, to the seven pieces recognised today. Maryon suggested an unidentified design because of a single piece showing "a solitary leg, from knee to foot, about 12 inch [13 mm] high."[22] Williams's reconstruction moved this piece "from the bottom edge of the cap at the rear up to a position against the crest at top centre," where it was revealed to be a part of the second design after all.[23][24] The existence of an unidentified pattern was thus putatively eliminated when Bruce-Mitford claimed in his 1972 article on the new reconstruction that there were only four designs.[25] Even in the first volume of The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, published in 1975, he referred to the unidentified scene in the past tense, stating that "at the time of the re-excavation [1965] it was believed that there was a third figural scene on the helmet."[26] Indications of a third scene did not return until volume two of the same work, published in 1978, where seven small fragments were discussed as being incapable of placement within the four known designs.[27]
  3. ^ Although the image shows the figure's right eye—i.e., that which is furthest from the animal-like figure—as missing, it is a mirror image of how the design would actually be seen. The Torslunda plates are bronze dies from which "impressions were struck in sheet bronze" and subsequently "mounted on helmets."[48] In this final form, the left eye would be seen to be missing.
  4. ^ Bruce-Mitford appears reluctant to even acknowledge fragment (c) as part of Design 3. Despite writing in 1978 that "[t]he fragment is mounted in the present helmet reconstruction on the right side towards the back,"[94] in 1982 he wrote that "none of the fragments that show portions of Design 3 are mounted in the helmet. Since we know neither what this scene depicted, nor how many times it was employed, to place such fragments in the reconstructed helmet could give a false impression both of the subject and of the position it may have occupied in the decorative layout of the helmet."[100] These contradictory statements would be reconciled by accepting Bruce-Mitford's theory that fragment (c) was a scrap, and not meant to be seen.
  5. ^ The only published criticism may have been that of Sune Lindqvist (sv), who wrote that the reconstruction "needs revision in certain respects."[131][132] Lindqvist's only specific criticism, however, was that the face-mask was "set somewhat awry in the reconstruction."[131] Bruce-Mitford was undoubtedly aware of Lindqvist's criticism when he wrote that the first reconstruction was not criticised in print, for he was the English translator of Lindqvist's article. He was thus likely referring to the more substantial criticisms of the reconstruction, such as its gaps in afforded protection, which indeed do not seem to have been published.


  1. ^ Google Arts & Culture.
  2. ^ a b Bruce-Mitford 1975, p. xxxvii.
  3. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1975, pp. 718–731.
  4. ^ British Museum.
  5. ^ a b Ruffin 2006, p. 43.
  6. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1975, pp. 176–180.
  7. ^ Evans 1986, pp. 32–40.
  8. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1978, pp. 138–231.
  9. ^ Evans 1986, pp. 46–49.
  10. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1975, pp. 144, 156.
  11. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1975, pp. 488–577.
  12. ^ a b c Bruce-Mitford 1978, p. 138.
  13. ^ a b c d Bruce-Mitford 1974a, p. 198.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Bruce-Mitford 1972, p. 120.
  15. ^ Bruce-Mitford 1978, p. 138 n.2.
  16. ^ a b c d e Maryon 1947, p. 137.
  17. ^ a b c Bruce-Mitford 1978, p. 140.
  18. ^ Maryon 1947, p. 138.
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External links[edit]


First reconstruction

  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows for LIFE magazine in 1951
  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows published in LIFE magazine on 16 July 1951
  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows for LIFE magazine in 1951, seen with the Sutton Hoo sword and photos of the Vendel 14 helmet and Valsgärde 6 sword hilt
  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows for LIFE magazine in 1951, seen with Herbert Maryon and photos of the Vendel 14 (right) Valsgärde 6 (left) helmets
  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows for LIFE magazine in 1951, seen with Herbert Maryon and photos of the Vendel 14 (right) Valsgärde 6 (left) helmets
  • Colour photo by Larry Burrows for LIFE magazine in 1951, seen with much of the rest of the Sutton Hoo treasure
  • Colour photo by the British Museum, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • Colour photo by the British Museum, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • B&W photo by the British Museum, front view
  • B&W photo by the British Museum, profile (dexter) view
  • B&W photo by the British Museum, profile (sinister) view

Second reconstruction

  • 32 photos by the British Museum, available upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • B&W photo by the British Museum showing the three dragon heads, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • B&W photo by the British Museum showing the back of the helmet during reconstruction, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • Colour photo by the British Museum showing the placement of the upwards-facing dragon, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

Royal Armouries replica

  • 13 photos by the British Museum
  • Colour photo by the British Museum, available here upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
  • Colour photo by the British Museum, available upon request in high resolution with a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license