It occurred to me, when writing my article on Cairo’s historical treasures, that perhaps I should articulate a series of posts that reflect my love and understanding of history. History is something I know well, although I am no true expert, and I therefore have a hand to lend in talking to you of all that I know. Thus, I will give you a rundown of the objects from history that I believe set themselves apart from all others. Those which, in my humble opinion, have special significance amongst myriad other riches.
I think that there is no better place to start this journey than on the fair isle I grew up, and with the first item which piqued my interest in all historical things.
My family used to holiday in a caravan in Suffolk, with my cousins and grandparents also on site, and on occasion my father would drive us down to Sutton, near Woodbridge. A lackadaisical security guard would even allow me to run all over the great grass mounds, under which were once buried treasures that would make the eyes of most men water. Nowadays, a combination of health and safety regulations, and justified rules for the sake of preservation, wouldn’t allow such activity, but the place will live long in my memory.
Amongst the many finely crafted pieces buried in the mounds of Sutton Hoo, one has always been my favourite. It is not the helmet, as you might presume, but the great gold belt buckle instead. The entire surface is decorated with zoomorphic interlace, so carefully completed that you might have thought it was cut by machine. The interlace is a combination of snakes, predatory birds, and long-limbed beasts, all wrapped around one another in eternal embrace.
Three golden orbs protrude from the surface and bring stark simplicity to an otherwise crowded surface. At the bottom of the buckle, there is a locking mechanism which takes the workmanship to another level and gives the buckle additional functionality.
Aside from the cosmetics of this piece, the historical significance of the entire hoard should not be underestimated. Across the site, which included a wooden ship burial, and even a silver plate from the Byzantine Empire, we can see how cultures across Europe were distinctly interconnected, even during the dark ages. Moreover, there may well be added in significance in who was buried at the site but, in all honesty, we still do not know who those people were at present. Perhaps in the future this mystery may be unlocked, although it looks increasingly unlikely.
All in all, this gold belt buckle is an Anglo-Saxon piece, dating from the early 7th century, with absolutely no equal, and the site as a whole is one of incalculable international significance. Should you ever have the distinct pleasure of visiting the British Museum to see this artefact, or Sutton Hoo itself, both are well worth a gander.