Netflix’s “The Dig” Explores the Discovery of Sutton Hoo

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Sutton Hoo 1939

Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, is the site of two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries from the sixth and early seventh centuries. The discovery revealed Anglo-Saxon burial ship and artifacts. It took years for archaeologists to fully understand the significance of the discovery. Sutton Hoo is instrumental in our understanding of Anglo-Saxon England.

In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Edith Pretty, owner of the Sutton Hoo site, hired archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate and excavate the two mounds on her property. Mid-summer 1939, Brown discovered a ship buried in Mound 1. The ship measured over 88 feet (27m) and was full of treasures including coins, swords and a helmet.

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When Britain formally entered World War II in October 1939 all the Sutton Hoo treasures were put in storage and the dig was placed on hold. Given the scale and vast importance of World War II the Sutton Hoo are wasn’t off limits. It was used as a military vehicle training ground during World War II. There was some damage to the site, but nothing drastic.

The Sutton Hoo helmet was found, broken, in over 100 pieces. Over the years it was carefully and masterfully reconstructed by the British Museum conservation team.

In the late 1960’s archaeologists from the British Museum, led by Rupert Bruce-Mitford continued the work postponed due to World War II. Using chemical analysis they identified high phosphate levels in one area and concluded a body had decomposed there. We’ll never know for sure who was buried at Sutton Hoo but it’s believed to be King Rædwald of East Anglia (599-624).

The Dig, based on a 2007 novel of the same name by John Preston, examines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. The Dig stars Carey Mulligan (An Education, Collateral) as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, An English Patient, Harry Potter series) as Basil Brown.

The Dig will release on Netflix on 29 January 2021.

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