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Book Review: Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings? (by Martin Carver) : BH

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings?, by Martin Carver, University of Pennsylvania Press, Box 4836, Hampden Station, Baltimore, Maryland 21211. $29.95, hardcover, 1998.

Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings?, by Martin Carver, director of the most recent digs at the Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Suffolk, tells the full story of the finds and what they reveal about the East Anglian culture in the post-Roman era.

In its first three chapters, the book recounts the initial work done at Sutton Hoo in the days before the First World War and subsequent research carried out through the 1960s. Along the way, Carver details not only the methods used to excavate the site and the objects uncovered during the work, but also provides some interesting insights into the professional ethics and politics involved in archaeological work by recounting the arguments that have followed the initial finds–what is the proper balance between excavation and preservation? When does research cross the line into treasure-hunting? Who legally owns any treasures found in the ground, and how did the current law come to be?

In his next four chapters, Carver engages in the tricky process of interpreting what the burials mean and how they affect our understanding of Dark Age England. Finally, the last and possibly most interesting chapter consists simply of a series of 50 questions the author has frequently been asked during his many lectures on his work at Sutton Hoo, along with his answers.

The findings resulting from scientific research can make mighty dry reading, but Carver tells this story concisely, devoid of technical jargon, and with occassional wit. The result is a very enjoyable and easy-to-read account of a major archaeological discovery.

Bruce Heydt

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