chapter  3
22 Pages

Field Research Procedure: a framework

Sutton Hoo was first investigated in the late 16th century. We don’t know why, but we can take a shrewd guess. The site consists of a cluster of burial mounds (FIG 3.1) and the 16th-century archaeologists drove a vertical shaft into the middle of each one. They must have had a rich haul: where the burial chamber lay under the centre of a mound, later archaeologists found it empty apart from scraps of iron, bronze

and gold. A second campaign took place in 1860, and these excavators drove an east-west trench through at least six mounds. In two cases, they cut steps down one end, while the other end was used as a barrow run. So here the objective was probably to examine the burial rite. If they were after treasure, they were disappointed – someone else had got there first. Apart from a newspaper cutting, this expedition was also unrecorded. The third campaign of 1938-9 was paid for by the new landowner and hit the jackpot. The team drove trenches through four mounds, finding three of them already looted. The fourth, the celebrated Mound 1, had been missed by the previous campaigns, because the chamber lay off centre and in the bottom of a large ship some 10m down. So the Sutton Hoo treasure was unearthed from the furnished chamber of an East Anglian aristocrat of the 7th century AD, a treasure donated by the landowner (whose property it was under English law) to the British Museum. The museum itself mounted a fourth campaign in 1965-71 to complete the total excavation of Mound 1 and to look for the prehistoric settlement that was thought to precede the early medieval mounds. In 1975-83, the museum in the person of Rupert Bruce-Mitford published three big volumes on the ship burial, at which point a new project was proposed. The first four investigations present us with a potted history of excavation: and this methodological evolution was to continue (FIG 3.2).