Video: Exciting finds at Rendlesham reveal everyday life in Suffolk’s ‘village of the kings’
PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 March 2014 | UPDATED: 18:50 12 March 2014
Finds made at Suffolk’s “village of the kings” have forced archaeologists to rethink their previous understanding of the way Anglo-Saxon society worked.
They have described it as the “largest and materially richest” site of its kind in England.
Seventy small objects from some 3,500 unearthed at Rendlesham over the past six years were revealed yesterday at the launch of a new seven-month long exhibition at Sutton Hoo.
While the weapons, gold and ornaments of the ship burial – believed to be that of King Raedwald – at Sutton Hoo showed the wealth and power of royalty 1,400 years ago, the finds at Rendlesham illustrate the everyday life of Saxon people.
Items left in Raedwald’s chamber were put there deliberately – symbols of his power, connected to ritual and memory.
In contrast, the coins, fragments of gold jewellery, pieces of metalwork, including cut gold sheet, from a smith’s workshop, weights and other items from the 120-acre site at Rendlesham were those which were dropped or discarded, or lost, or even part of rubbish later spread on the land to fertilise it, by people going about their daily business.
The archaeologists though are convinced the two sites are linked – and gold coins found at Rendlesham were compatible with those from Sutton Hoo.
Academic advisor Professor Christopher Scull, of Cardiff University and University College London, said the survey of the site had drawn together a partnership including the county archaeological service and authorised metal detector users, with funding from English Heritage, the county council and Sutton Hoo Society – in a project work up to £200,000.
The site – which is around 700 metres by 200m – had been surveyed using a variety of methods, including metal detecting, aerial photography, geophysics and chemical analysis.
Making a find was like winning the cup!
Four metal detector enthusiasts have told how each discovery of a special find was “like winning the FA Cup”.
Terry Marsh, Alan Smith, Roy Damant and Robert Atfield were called in by Suffolk County Council’s archaeological service and authorised to methodically comb the site at Rendlesham, working as a team to walk every inch of the fields with their equipment.
Project manager Jude Plouviez paid tribute to the quartet and said it was a very thorough and slow process and they had given 170 man days each year.
Mr Marsh said: “When you dig something up you don’t know what you have got in your hand. To find something really special like a gold coin is a real ‘yes!’ moment – quite magical, one of the real pleasures of metal detecting.”
Mr Atfield said: “Our work is non-destructive – we work in the plough soil, which has been churned up many times over the years.”
He said for every 50 or 60 ring pulls and other odd bits of metal, less than three recordable pieces of archaeology are found.
There had been some small excavation work at sites identified by the survey which confirmed buildings had existed on the land.
Prof Scull said buildings would have been scattered across the land – not like an urban town of today. The homes of the high-status would have been separate and there may have been a tented encampment for part of the year as people from a wide area arrived to trade or for fairs.
He said: “The survey has identified a site of national and indeed international importance for the understanding of the Anglo-Saxon elite and their European connections.
“The quality of some of the metalwork leaves no doubt that it was made for and used by the highest ranks of society. These exceptional discoveries are truly significant in throwing new light on early East Anglia and the origins of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.”
The continued occupation of Rendlesham over 300 years or more revealed a sophisticated system of economy and administration which would force a rethink on many aspects of Anglo-Saxon society, and a reappraisal of sites at home and abroad.
The National Trust exhibition of the Rendlesham finds opens on Saturday, March 15, and runs until October.