The Dig highlights the historical find of an ancient Anglo-Saxon ship burial — but the ship wasn’t the only treasure unearthed at the Sutton Hoo site.
The Dig tells the true story of how a group of amateur excavators unearthed an ancient Anglo-Saxon ship in Suffolk, England, but what other valuable treasures were found at Sutton Hoo? With the threat of an impending World War II looming large, a widow named Edith Pretty (played by Carrie Mulligan) hired a self-trained archeologist named Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the burial site on her property at Sutton Hoo. What they discovered was extraordinary.
The historical significance of the dig, the people involved, and the attention it attracted from the media and museums alike, are all part of the real-life events depicted in The Dig. The film focuses on the people who came to work at Sutton Hoo, their various backgrounds, relationships, and how they came together during a time of strife to unearth the ancient ship’s remains. But the ship wasn’t the only big treasure waiting to be found at Sutton Hoo.
There are several things about the Sutton Hoo excavation that The Dig changes, including the treasures that were found at the site. In addition to the bones of the ship, there were over 200 artifacts uncovered at Sutton Hoo, making it one of the most important archeological excavations in history. Among the plethora of artifacts, a handful of discoveries stand out as the most valuable treasures found during the excavation that the film fails to mention.
In one scene from The Dig, an excavator named Peggy Preston (Lily James) finds a small gold jewel buried among the ship’s skeleton. This was only the beginning of the dazzling jewels that were found at the site. The Sutton Hoo purse-lid is the richest of its kind ever to be discovered. The top of a leather pouch used to carry coins, the lid is made of red garnets inlaid in gold and is considered one of the most magnificent creations of the Middle Ages. The purse was part of an ensemble that included a great buckle made entirely of gold and weighing more than 400 grams, an ornate gold belt, and two identical, bejeweled shoulder-clasps. Equally valuable are the royal sword and belt buckle, which was found crushed beneath the blade of the gold-hilted sword. The gold belt and buckle, ornately decorated in garnets and gold, held the sword in place. Aside from their large price tags, these discoveries helped prove that the person commemorated at the site was of great importance, contributing to the theory that King Raedwald was buried there.
The Sutton Hoo helmet is often the most celebrated treasure from the site and is considered one of the most important Anglo-Saxon discoveries of our time. In addition to its inherent value based on its age and materials, the Sutton Hoo helmet is also extremely important culturally. There are just four complete Anglo-Saxon helmets in existence to date, and the one unearthed at Sutton Hoo is the most elaborate ever found, making it truly a priceless artifact. Together these items make up the most valuable and historically significant finds from the Sutton Hoo excavation that changed the way people think about Anglo-Saxon culture. The Dig concludes with Edith Pretty donating these most-prized treasures to The British Museum, where they remain on display today along with the rest of the collection from Sutton Hoo.
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