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Art: Outward Bound

2 minute read

For the first thousand years of the Christian era the little island of Britain was overrun by hordes of men who rose up out of the sea. In the Fifth Century came the Angles, from somewhere on the bleak coast of the Baltic. Ships brought them, and when their kings died they were buried in ships with their bows pointing toward the sea. Last week on a hilltop estate near Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, diggers unearthed for a Mrs. E. M. Pretty a funeral ship that had lain untouched under a mound of earth some 13 centuries.

It was the only Anglian burial ship ever found that vandals had not looted. In it was a king’s cargo: plates of beaten silver delicately embossed, gold clasps inlaid with garnets and mosaic, a great gold buckle chased and ornamented with black enamel filling. Archeologists descending on the scene thought that the king was probably King Raedwald of East Anglia (now the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk), whose palace was at Rendlesham, four miles away. A coroner’s jury, hastily convened, decided that plates and ornaments were treasure (abandoned publicly in the ground), not treasure trove (hidden for future gain), therefore belonged to Mrs. Pretty, not the Crown.

There were no bones, no ashes: somehow the king had missed his boat. Since King Raedwald was a Christian convert, archeologists surmised that when he died in the year 617 he let his body be interred with Christian rites. But to be doubly sure that he would reach a safe harbor, his pagan subjects launched the funeral ship, let it sail without him.

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