“Rendlesham Revealed” is an exhibition at National Trust Sutton Hoo and needs to be seen before it closes at the end of October. Afterwards there will still be Sutton Hoo of course, which will always be on a priority list for visitors to the East of England. Rendlesham was an unknown quantity until the past few years, although there were suspicions prompted by a few words of the Venerable Bede.
How it came to public knowledge is almost worthy of a novel rivalling the story that inspired “The Dig”, starring Ralph Fiernnes and Carey Mulligan. It had a similar origin, of suspicious activities on private land. The difference is that the thieves of Sutton Hoo were long dead, whereas the so-called “Night Hawks” were very much part of the high-tech present day.
Night Hawks is the name given to illicit users of metal detectors in their hunt for buried treasure. Genuine detectorists, as anyone who has watched the TV series “Detectorists” will know, request permission before starting to search a site and report anything they find to the land owner and, where required, to the Portable Antiquities agency. In the case of Rendlesham the land owner was surprised that a search was being made. Once the authorities were alerted permission was given for Suffolk Archaeology to carry out an excavation ubder the guidance of Professor Christopher Scull. The results are not visually exciting but they are of immense historical significance.
Rendlesham, as Bede stated, was the residence of an Anglo-Saxon ruler of East Anglia, a predecessor of the man buried at Sutton Hoo nearby. There were at least four large halls used for feasting and ceremonies. The complex was the largest of at least three in the area, allowing the ruler to progress between them to receive tribute. Subsidiary buildings were workshops for tools, weapons and perhaps jewellery. Rendlesham was also probably a trade centre, where imports were received and distributed.
Finds have not been as spectacular as at Sutton Hoo but they have demonstrated the wealth of the site. The exhibition illustrates the complex and the work done by local volunteers and schoolchildren as displaying some of the items recovered. For the most part these are lost property, as is often the case with archaeology. Naturally, jewels or dress fittings feature prominently. They reveal the very high standard of craftsmanship that existed in what used to be called the “Dark Ages”. Anything but, and well worth travelling to Sutton Hoo to appreciate before they are deposited in what we hope will be a local museum.