Sutton Hoo at the British Museum

Up until 27th March, the Sutton Hoo treasures in the British Museum were on show in room 2, just off the Enlightement Gallery. The last time I was in there, the gallery looked like this.

An empty gallery at the British Museum

An empty gallery at the British Museum

It’s quite spooky to see a room with nothing in it. So, where did everything go?

Well, the display in room 2 was only a temporary arrangement as the museum was refurbishing the Sutton Hoo’s treasures permanent home upstairs in room 41. I was really hoping that this refurb would turn out well, not only because we’d have to live with it for a good many years to come but also because the blockbuster Vikings exhibition was such a let down. 

The re-opening of these rooms, is, as you would imagine, a Very Big Deal so it was great to see some pictures being tweeted of the fancy party that kicked things off. It was great to see some of my favourite academics like Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes there:

The Big Question still needs to be answered: was the refurbishment a success?

In a word, yes.

 

The Sutton Hoo Helmet at the British Museum

The Sutton Hoo Helmet at the British Museum

One of the really amazing features of the Sutton Hoo excavations back in 1938 were the ghostly imprints of the Viking ships left in the soil, which you can see here.

Archaeologists unearthing the Sutton Hoo ghost ships

Archaeologists unearthing the Sutton Hoo ghost ships

The museum invokes this sense of the ghostly imprint by frosting some of the glass in the central display case. You can kind of see it in this photograph if you look close enough.

The Sutton Hoo treasures

The Sutton Hoo treasures

Can you see it?

When I realised what was going on, I really appreciated just how much work had gone into the exhibition design. If you’re lucky and you get to visit the room at a quiet moment and you position yourself just right you get a remarkable view of both the original helmet and the shiny reproduction made by the Royal Armouries.

The Sutton Hoo helmets

The Sutton Hoo helmets

The room is not *just* about the helmets, you can see other stunning objects too. I was particularly fond of this horde and thought it made for a good photo…

Viking and Anglo-Saxon finds

Viking and Anglo-Saxon finds

This new room design really is a triumph, and it shows what the museum can do when it really tries. When the museum tweeted this image, I realised just how much has been changed and what a vast improvement it really was.

So, if you’re at the British Museum and tickets to the Vikings have sold out, never fear because this room is here and it’s fab (and free!).

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