AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractThis chapter presents a survey and critique of the use of ‘treasure(s)’ to describe the burial assemblage from the Mound 1 ship-burial at Sutton Hoo since its discovery in 1939. I argue that referring to the contents of Mound 1 as ‘treasure(s)’ is not merely misrepresenting, commodifying and sensationalising its funerary context and wider significance. Furthermore, the persistent use of the terms directly relates also to specific, multiple valences which assert and perpetuate a specific interpretation of the grave as a ‘King’s Mound’. Moreover, referring to more than the rare and high-status character of the finds, ‘treasure(s)’ also casts the assemblage’s identity as a ‘national treasure’, legitimising its curation by the British Museum and valorising the benefaction of the landowner who commissioned the 1938 and 1939 excavations: Mrs Edith Pretty. Another key dimension to the use of the term is the assemblage’s perceived relationship with the epic Old English poem Beowulf and the ‘treasures’ it describes. As a label, ‘treasure(s)’ inaccurately and tenaciously sublimates the rich and complex story of the grave, the contexts of the cemetery, locality and region into a simplified simulacrum of early East Anglian/Anglo-Saxon kingship linked to religious conversion and tied to patriotic modern concepts of Englishness. I demonstrate how the use of ‘treasure’ reveals a nexus of Anglo-Saxonist and Germanist ideological readings of the assemblage in academic discourse and popular culture.
CitationWilliams, H. (2022). Destroy the ‘Sutton Hoo Treasure’! In H. Williams, P. Reavill & S. Clague (Eds.) The Public Archaeology of Treasure (pp. 162-185). Archaeopress.
DescriptionOpen access book chapter. Permission granted by Archaeopress.
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