Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 12: Sutton Who?

Part 11 of my vacation trip diary. If you're joining the trip in progress, the prior entries are:
Day 1: Standing Stones | Day 2: Cotswold Way | Day 3: Don't You Know There's a War On? | Day 4: The Black Country | Day 5: Ironbridge to Shrewsbury | Day 6: The Enchanted Palace | Day 7: Uncovering the Past, Cataloguing the Present | Intermission | Day 8: From Hampstead Heath to Our Just Deserts | Day 9: Stitches to the Sea | Day 10: City of a Thousand Bridges | Day 11: Past and Present

7/5 Monday
Monday morning I buried my head under the pillow to shield it from the blaring intercom telling me that the boat was docking, and reminding me that breakfast for exorbitant prices was available at various restaurants and cafes on the boat. We lost an hour coming back from Amsterdam, and it definitely came out of our sleep-time. I crawled out of the top bunk, slithered down the ladder and heartlessly turned on the light while JT groaned in the lower bunk.

I went and had a pricy and inadequate breakfast, and we docked at Harwich. After a short wait and (and some further inspection of the Millenium Tapestries in the terminal), we took a train for Ipswich:

--changed at Ipswich for Melton and walked the last mile and a half to Sutton Hoo. It was (surprise, surprise) another beautifully warm and sunny day. We found that contrary to our research, the site opened at 10:30 instead of the 10:00 am we had thought, so we staked out a shady spot under a tree and waited the half-hour or so while other visitors drove up and variously turned around or waited until opening time.

We hadn't been entirely sure what to expect- the excavation is closed up, after all, and all there is to see is the remnant of the burial mound. But it turned out that they had a terrific little visitor center which gave a lot of information on the circumstances of finding the Sutton Hoo treasure, the archeological evidence that was uncovered, and also had artifacts from another local burial that were still on site. (The original Sutton Hoo treasure is in the British Museum.) Also, some good replicas:
replica Sutton Hoo mask

It’s a fascinating story- the land was known to have barrows on it. The owner, Mrs. Pretty was interested in Spiritualism, and had a feeling that this one particular barrow should be dug up. So she contacted the Ipswich museum, and had them send her an archeologist...Basil Brown, whose previous experience had been on Roman sites. Brown insisted on first digging up a couple of smaller mounds, to get some experience before tackling the large mound. These proved to be graves that had been robbed many years previously. The Sutton Hoo burial had a shaft dug down to the ship as well, in a position that would have put it in the center of the mound—the usual position for burials—except that one end of the mound had been plowed flat by farmers. And the boat was very much larger than anyone could have expected. So, in the immortal words of Indiana Jones and Sallah, “They’re digging in the wrong place!”

Brown carefully and laboriously uncovered the boat...or more precisely, the boat-shaped array of rivets that marked the position the boat had occupied before the wood was all dissolved by the highly acidic ground. And when he reached the true center, and realized that he had found the real burial, and it was undisturbed, he stopped work and called in experts, who excavated the crushed burial chamber. Brown’s careful excavation was thoroughly approved of, and he got to dig up the other end of the boat while the experts worked in the middle.

After the treasure had all been recovered, there was an inquest to determine the ownership of it. The crucial legal argument revolved around whether the treasure had been hidden with the intention of recovering it which case it would belong to the Crown. If it were simply lost or abandoned, it belonged to the finder and or the landowner. The inquest determined that as part of a ship burial, there was no intention to recover it, nor was it hidden...they read out a quote from Beowulf at the inquest, describing just such a ship burial in proof that grave goods were intentionally buried with no intent to retrieve them. And so the court awarded the entire treasure to Mrs. Pretty—w hich she promptly donated in its entirety to the British museum. The site of Sutton Hoo itself was left to the National Trust by a later owner. (The two stakes mark the ends of the boat--it was 90 feet long- note the cunningly positioned tourist for scale.)
Site of the Sutton Hoo Burial

We thoroughly enjoyed the visit, right up to the last line of the sign as we left:
We thought that beginning and ending with English was very appropos.
We thought that beginning and ending with English was very classy.

There wasn’t a lot of time to spare if we were to catch the most convenient train back, so we hustled back the way we came along the road rather than exploring any of the intriguing footpaths we saw en route.

On our return to London, we retrieved our left luggage again and then dropped it all at yet another hotel...this one convenient to Paddington, where we’d be catching the express train back to the airport the next day. We walked back through Kensington gardens and St. James Park:
View from St. James's Park

--and found that yet again there was no tea to be had at Kensington Palace (another special event, and no invite for us--I was starting to feel a little rejected.) We wandered by Hatchard's (an excellent independent bookstore in London), and escaped with only as many books as we could carry, and eventually returned to Busaba Eathai for dinner, another restaurant we've enjoyed before.

Slideshow of Sutton Hoo and London photos: (You can click on the show to see it with larger photos.)

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