Rendlesham Rediscovered

Rendlesham Rediscovered 

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 March 2014 : Archaeologists uncovered the palace of Anglo Saxon royals at Rendlesham just four miles from ancient Sutton Hoo, where they are believed to buried their dead.

For those of us with a keen interest in Rendlesham’s history,  Rendlesham has been confirmed as the location of the site of the “kingly town that is named Rendlesham”, described by Bede in his Historia Ecclesiastica, completed around 730, which is considered to be one of the most important original references on Anglo-Saxon history. It justifies our association with Sutton Hoo, the inclusion of the Anglo Saxon helmet on our village sign and our aspiration that Rendlesham was the home of the Wuffinga family and notably of Raedwald, the wearer of the helmet.

 The finding of materials and of the Rendlesham ancient site confirms that “Rendlesham is the largest and materially richest site of its kind in the UK”.

Archaeologists and historians have already acknowledged that the recent ancient treasure finds will change the bigger picture of the understanding of Anglo Saxon times...  

Where did it start?

When Sutton Hoo was revealed as the location of a ship burial in 1939, the Second World War was imminent and so, it was only later that historians and archaeologists could begin to piece together the story, now much better known and understood, of the ship burial of the wearer of the helmet. Given Bede’s reference, which clearly shows that Rendlesham was well known and well recorded in Anglo Saxon times, scholars working on Sutton Hoo also looked at Rendlesham. One of these, Rupert Bruce-Mitford, the author of ‘Aspects of Anglo Saxon Archaeology’ published in 1974, visited Rendlesham and included a chapter called ‘Saxon Rendlesham’ in his book.  Despite much attention and conjecture from him and other well respected historians, no evidence was found at the time to confirm the location of  ‘kingly Rendlesham’.

Anglo Saxon scholar, Dr Sam Newton’s more recent research and talks have suggested that the very name Rendlesham was originally Rendilsham – rendil being Anglo Saxon for shield – the name would naturally give the meaning “Home of the Shield”. Newton also says that “Raedwald would have been the first English king in recorded history to be overlord of both Northern and Southern Britain.”

Since 2008 a small group of 4 authorised, archaeologically trained and dedicated Suffolk-based metal detector owners have been painstakingly field walking and have uncovered a large number of finds over an extensive area, equivalent to 283 football pitches, within the Parish Boundary of Rendlesham. As all their finds were reported*, their number and type meant that Suffolk County Archaeologist’s Conservation Team soon became more involved and a specialist piece of equipment was employed to enable geophysical surveying to be completed.

Many will know that when the Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered, no ship remained. The soil in East Anglia is very sandy and acidic so the wood had rotted away, all that was left was a stain in the earth. We have to thank the skill of the discovering archaeologist, Basil Brown, who recognised the surviving metal ship rivets and completed the discovery of the ship without destroying the evidence. Geophysics is the art of viewing subtle changes beneath the visible surface of the land, to distinguish for example, the difference between rocks, roots and other natural materials and the organic staining from decayed wooden posts. Modern technology allows the collection of a high density of data points so that dozens of readings per square metre are possible. It is this new technology that has permitted the discovery of features that remained unknown to the hopeful scholars of earlier years.

The National Trust and Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service are the bodies responsible for the discovery work, the Sutton Hoo Society and English Heritage have contributed funding. As well as field walking surveys, pits were dug by archaeologists to confirm more detail of some of the revealed structures. The geophysical surveys have revealed ditches, pits, buildings and finds. Over 700 pieces of Anglo Saxon metal, pins, buckles, bag catches, coins, bowl fragments, brooches, horse harness fitting, jewellery and mounts from sword scabbards have been found.

 What could the 2014 find mean?

The coins include: the first Anglo Saxon coins to be minted, Roman coins, copper coins minted in Constantinople and gold and silver coins from France and the Netherlands. The large number found indicate a regular market/fair and there is some speculation that Rendlesham may have had a mint. The bowls originated in the Eastern Mediterranean. Some of the brooch finds originated in France and Germany. Some of the high quality jewellery finds indicate that Rendlesham was probably a royal residence. There is evidence of a bronze worker and a goldsmith. The variety of sword scabbard mounts found indicates individuals of different ranks of society.

According to Professor Scull, Academic Advisor to the project “taken together these finds indicate the largest and materially richest site of it’s kind in the UK.