Sometimes the most amazing discoveries can be made through the strangest means. In 1926, newlyweds Frank and Edith Pretty purchased an estate on swath of land on a bluff overlooking sandy heathland along the coast in Suffolk, England, at a place called Sutton Hoo. The Pretty’s were fascinated by the lore and myths of this mystical land, and were particularly curious about the various mysterious mounds of earth that dotted the area and were said by locals to be burial mounds tied to ancient peoples who had been there in the misty past. Although their land held several of these mounds, they respectfully left them alone, choosing to allow them to retain their mystique, never attempting to disturb them or dig into them, leaving their mysteries lost to time. Even after Frank’s death in 1934, Edith continued to refuse to touch the mounds, merely letting her imagination run wild as to what they meant and who had put them there. However, one day Edith would have a bizarre, paranormal experience that would change all of that, and lead to one of the most remarkable, amazing archeological discoveries in British history.
The story goes that one day in the mid-1930s, Edith was having lunch at her home with a friend by the name of Dorothy Cox, when something outside caught their attention. When they looked outside to one of the mystery mounds, Edith would claim that both of them had seen ghostly ancient Anglo Saxon warriors with swords and armor dancing and roaming about on one of the mounds, which she took to be some sort of sign. Indeed, Cox would claim that she had seen these phantom warriors on many occasions when she had visited the estate, and Edith would also have a very vivid dream in which one of the warriors was being buried in the mound amongst gold and treasure. Some stories even tell of Edith, who was interested in Spiritualism, holding a séance with Spiritualist William Parish, in which a phantom black knight riding a black horse appeared in the room to tell them to dig at the mounds. These paranormal experiences had left her shaken, but also now determined to find out what was beneath the earth, and so in 1937 she contacted a local historian by the name of Vincent Redstone about the possibility of excavating the mounds, and he would in turn contact a self-taught amateur archeologist in the area by the name of Basil Brown. When the digging began in 1938, nobody thought they would find much. In most cases burial mounds of this sort had been long ago looted by grave robbers, and at first with some of the smaller mounds this was exactly the case, so it was a genuine shock when the largest of these mounds turned out to hold wonders beyond what anybody had ever imagined.
When Brown began digging at the largest mound, it before long became very clear that there was the definite outline of an Anglo Saxon ship etched there into the earth, measuring 86 feet long, and although the wood had long rotted away the iron rivets remained, and there was a plethora of artifacts left behind. Within the ancient ship was what appeared to be a burial chamber, and in this chamber were found a total of 263 objects, including weapons, silver cutlery, gold buckles, silver bowls, gold and silver coins, jewelry, and ornaments, a maplewood lyre, a stone scepter, a mysterious golden pyramid inlaid with garnets, shields, swords, a spear, and strangest of all a distinctive and ornate full-face helmet of a design no one had ever seen before. It was a treasure trove of deep historical significance, thought to date back to the 7th century, a historical era for British history and the Anglo Saxons that remains murky, and poorly recorded and understood, and it was also the largest ship burial ever uncovered. How it had avoided grave robbers was miraculous, and in every respect this was the archeological discovery of the century. Considering that this was an unprecedented look back into Anglo Saxon history, the find was priceless.
Edith would donate the entire discovery to the British Museum in 1939, and when World War II came barreling through Europe, the museum had the treasure hidden underground in the network of tunnels of the rail system to protect it from the marauding Germans. In the decades since, the other mounds on the Pretty property, 18 of them in all, have continued to be meticulously excavated and have turned up additional discoveries. Notably, a major find was made as recently as 1991, when archeologist Martin Carver found a never before known mound completely by accident as he was playing golf at the site. He noticed that his ball had moved down a slight slope on otherwise flat land and realized that it was a mound that had been so flattened it had been missed. When the new mound was excavated it was found to contain an Anglo Saxon warrior in a full set of battle armor, who had been buried along with his horse and a meal of lamb chops. Amazingly, the area of Sutton Hoo has still not even been completely explored yet, and there could be even more amazing discoveries waiting down there in the earth.
The Sutton Hoo treasure still retains many mysteries itself. Since no body was every found within the ship we are left to wonder who this elaborate ship burial was for, who put it here, and why. The main theory is that it was probably for Rædwald, the ruler of the East Anglia, who died in around 624 AD and was one of the first Angle kings to convert to Christianity, although there is no way to be sure. Another enigma is that such ship burials were only known before from the region of Sweden, such as that mentioned in the Old English poem Beowulf, so it is very curious to find this ship tomb in Suffolk. Also odd is that there is no sign of a body in the ship. It is thought the acidic soil must have melted it away, but other nearby mounds from the same era have been found with human remains, so why has the body from the burial ship just completely vanished? Was this the work of grave robbers, and if so why would they just take the body and leave the treasure behind? No one knows.
Also rather mysterious are the stories about ghosts leading Edith Pretty to the site. Did the phantoms really appear to her as a sign? Interestingly, the treasure, which is still held at the British Museum, is said to be haunted even now, with museum night guards sometimes experiencing things they can’t explain in its vicinity. In an article written for The Economist by Killian Fox he says of this:
Every so often a patrol encounters a noise, a flash of movement, or simply a sudden lurch in the pit of the stomach, that stops even hardened veterans in their tracks. On one occasion a guard bolted the double doors and moved on to the next room, only to be informed by a CCTV operator that the doors stood wide open again. Video footage of the gallery showed them moving spontaneously.
The treasure of Sutton Hoo is a priceless piece of history that will probably always hold its mysteries close. One of these is how exactly Edith Pretty knew what lay under those mysterious mounds. Was she really shown this place by the ghosts of the past and those who had died all of those centuries ago? Or was it just a lucky guess and curiosity that drove her? Is the treasure truly haunted by ghosts and surrounded by the paranormal? Whatever the case may be, the discovery of the mysterious ghost burial ship on the property is held up as an invaluable historical discovery, and it will likely be regarded as such for quite some time.