Sutton Hoo, in the kingdom of East Anglia, is a very famous Anglo-Saxon ship burial – with such rich items included that it is clear this was someone very high ranked. For the SCA, this would be perfect for a sitting royal, or count or duke. But what if you wanted to be the next rank or two down? A person of status and importance, but NOT quite that wealthy and high ranked? I briefly examined this area years ago, but it is time to revisit the topic.
The ship burial is a part of the Sutton Hoo cemetery which appears to have been in use about 575-625. There are luckily, quite a few burial sites in the region, that give us a wider range of apparent status options, based on items found in the graves. In particular, a cemetery at Hadleigh Road in Gipeswic (Ipswich) is only 9 miles from the Sutton Hoo site and has a large number of burials, including graves with beads.
Nearly all dates assigned by archaeologists to graves and artefacts are based on looking at style and typologies of the various artefacts. These typologies are relative to each other, meaning they are used to describe the progression of stylistic change, and which type is “earlier” or “later”. When wood survives in a burial, archaeologists attempt use dendrochronology to provide a “not before” date to the burial. (There is a UK Dendrochronology Database!!) Dated coins found in burials also can be used to prove a “not before” date. However, both wood and coins could have been included in a grave many years after being cut down or minted. Because there are many different typologies, (which are often expensive books to acquire), my recommendation for re-enactment is to pick one type of object that most appeals to you. Use the typology for that object type to select the particular style you like best, and let all the rest of your research and accessory selection flow from there.
Beads most appealed to me, and I have the book, Brugmann, Birte. 2004. Glass beads from early Anglo-Saxon graves: a study on the provenance and chronology of glass beads from early Anglo-Saxon graves, based on visual examination. Oxford: Oxbow. In it, Brugmann has divided Anglo-Saxon bead types into the following dated groups – Bead group A1 is 450-530, A2 is 480-580, A2b is 530-580, B1 is 555-600, B2 is 580-650, C is 650 to the end of “furnished” Anglo-Saxon graves. Thus, we see that Bead Group B2, 580-650, overlaps the Sutton Hoo burial quite well. Knowing we are looking for bead group B2, we can check the huge database on which the book based conclusions, which IS available in the project archives of ADS. This is great, since the book itself is out-of-print. After downloading the database, we can sort and search in a number of ways.
The next step after finding which sites and graves include beads from the B2 groups is to map out where these sites are in relation to each other and Sutton Hoo. (In progress) Then analysis is needed about what commonalities the B2 graves have, in terms of cloth and other dress accesories. Finally, the acquisition or production of the various items, to fit the status level I wish. (I will link other posts, as they are created.)