Sutton Hoo Helmet, early 7th century AD
Iron, tin, silver, gold, garnet, copper-alloy
31.8 (height) x 74.6 (circumference at eyebrow level) cm
Suffolk, England


Excavated from a large burial mound at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England, this reconstructed iron helmet from the early 600s AD was found (in pieces) inside a 27-metre-long ship. The object was discovered along with a remarkable trove of weapons, coins, jewelry, and other precious objects. While scholars speculate as to the identity of the individual given such an elaborate burial ritual, he was probably a powerful leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom.
An indication of the deceased’s high status, the helmet is elaborately decorated with intricate designs and figures. The tinned copper-alloy side panels show scenes of victory, while the facemask is covered with fierce animals, guarding the wearer in all directions. A bird forms the nose, moustache, and eyebrows of the warrior, and the eyebrows are further enhanced by gilt-copper-alloy boar heads on both ends. A serpent with sharp fangs and glowing red eyes curves over the top of the helmet to meet the bird, which flies upward.
Discovery of the lavish Sutton Hoo burial radically altered scholars’ understanding of what had previously been known as the ‘Dark Ages,’ giving validation to the extravagance described in Anglo-Saxon epic poems, such as Beowulf. The sophisticated craftsmanship and diverse geographic origins of the objects found further indicate a connected world involved in complex international networks during the Early Medieval Period.


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