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SUTTON HOO - Burial Ground of Kings?

By Martin Carver, published by the British Museum Press at £16.99. Hardback. 224pp. ISBN: 0-7141-0591-0 (Reviewed by David Taylor)

The unique treasures of the great ship burial discovered in 1939 at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, Suffolk - and now in the British Museum - have made a massive contribution to our knowledge of "Dark Age" society. Who exactly is buried in the grave, if anyone, is uncertain, but the favoured candidate is King Redwald (? - c627 AD). The grave shows not only the extensive wealth and beautiful craftsmanship of the Anglo-Saxon period. but also the contacts with Scandinavia, France, Byzantium and the Mediterranean, trade links one does not always associate with the "Dark Ages". The presence of Christian objects in a burial whose ethois is utterly pagan demonstrates the manner in wich Christianity and Anglo-Saxon heathenism intermingled during this fluid period.

Martin Carver is Professor of Archaeology at the University of York and was Director of excavations at Sutton Hoo from 1983 to 1997, so he is in an excellent position to chronicle the archaeological excavations undertaken at Sutton Hoo, a massive task in itself, complicated by not only the other, less well known archaeological finds, but also the interpretation of and context into which the remains have to be placed.

What will be of interest to neo-pagans will be the rare glimpses given into Anglo-Saxon heathen beliefs about the afterlife, not from any "New Age" source but from archaeological remains. Also of interest, certainly to this reviewer anyway, is what Sutton Hoo tells us about the overlapping of heathen and Christian beliefs, a lesson in tolerance that many Christians and neo-pagans could learn from.

Although dealing with heathenism, you will find no mention of runes, Odinism etc .... which for a book dealing with Anglo-Saxon culture can only be a bonus, and makes this book an essential addition to the book-shelf.