by John | Jan 20, 2016 |

Spotlight on Snape: The Anglo-Saxon Burial Site


Suffolk is renowned for being a vibrant arena for archaeological research. Sutton Hoo, just two miles east of Woodbridge, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. The site has played a pivotal role in helping to further the understanding of the early Anglo-Saxon period. Excavated in 1939, the famous ship burial found at the site, which historians date back to the early 7th century, is one of the most celebrated and magnificent archaeological finds in England. Considering the magnitude and influence of Sutton Hoo it is unsurprising that the site slightly eclipses the other burial sites found in Suffolk, such as the one discovered at Snape. Despite this, the Snape burial site was the first Anglo Saxon burial recognised in England and has been crucial to our understanding of early medieval East Anglia.

The Snape burial site, located in the extreme northeast corner of Snape, was originally visible as a group of 9 or 10 burial mounds, but today sadly nothing can be seen as the fields have long since been levelled off. Excavated in 1862 by the local landowner, it was discovered that one of the mounds contained the remains of a ship burial. Similarly to that found at Sutton Hoo, the Anglo Saxon ship, which was at least 14m in length, was of clinker build and riveted construction. Unfortunately the grave contained within it had already been robbed and very little was left. 

Archaeologists did still manage to salvage some interesting finds and many of which are on display at the Moot Hall Museum in the nearby town of Aldeburgh. A few of the most fascinating artefacts that were left include a couple of spearhead fragments, the remains of a glass claw beaker and a magnificent gold ring (all of which are now housed in The British Museum, London). The ring is unique in Anglo-Saxon England and along with the glass claw beaker indicate the burial being of the highest status. It is even argued among some that these finds indicate that the burial was that of an early king of the Sutton Hoo dynasty. Historians have dated the ring and claw beaker back to C. 550, however the paucity of finds did make it difficult. The ship burial was dated using these artefacts and as such it is widely believed among historians that the Snape ship is actually earlier than the main Sutton Hoo grave in mound 1. There were a series of further excavations of differing scale between 1985-90, which turned up a further boat and the skeleton of a man with a sword.

Comparisons between the Snape and Sutton Hoo sites are particularly interesting to note and have helped historians clarify the relationship between the two sites. There are a number of significant similarities, most importantly both are closely linked by the occurrence of a boat burial, which remains unique to the two sites. Other major similarities are the proximity to one another and location, with both positioned on marginal heathland, close to a major East Suffolk estuary. The differences are equally important;  Snape is the earlier of the two sites, and while Sutton Hoo only contains the graves of the elite, there was evidence to suggest that at Snape there were a variety of pagan Anglo Saxon graves. 

The importance of the Snape Anglo-Saxon cemetery lies primarily in the fact that it has produced the only other definite Anglo-Saxon ship burial apart from Sutton Hoo and has helped historians uncover a wealth of knowledge about early medieval East Anglia. Sutton Hoo revealed the history behind the Wuffings kings of East Anglia, Snape revealed an earlier phase in the kingdom’s emergence. 

Fancy immersing yourself in the history?  Why not plan a visit to Snape. While you’re in the area a trip to Sutton Hoo is a must! Explore lots of beautiful holiday cottages in the area here.

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