The Sutton Hoo helmet

Teaching ideas

Explore the helmet with the students using the resources in For the classroom. Discuss which parts have survived and which have been lost. Identify the materials used and the features such as the flying beasts, the decorated panels and the ear and neck flaps. Consider how good the helmet would be for protecting its owner, why it is so elaborately decorated, what effect it might have on an enemy and what it says about its wearer.

These three activities could be done in sequence or as stand-alone.

Invite a student to lie down in the middle of the classroom. Place a range of modern objects around them. Ask the students to think about what an archaeologist in 1500 years’ time might find and what might have disappeared.

Print out photos of about 15 Sutton Hoo objects from the British Museum website. Give one or two to each group of students and ask them to try to work out what the objects are, what they are made of, what might be missing and what they suggest about the person they were found with. Make a set of labels suggesting reasons for the objects to be buried: to show the strength and skills of a warrior, to show the ability to be a leader, to show wealth, to show the importance of feasting and entertainment. Ask the students to group objects around each label. Discuss their choices.

Use the information and links in A bigger picture to discuss what the Sutton Hoo burial tells us about Anglo-Saxon connections with the rest of the world. Students might follow this up with research to find out what was happening in these other parts of the world at the time when the treasures were buried at Sutton Hoo.

These four questions develop from more focused to broader historical enquiries.

Who was buried at Sutton Hoo?

What do the objects tell us about their owner? What do they not tell us? What can we never know? You could then go on to use the objects and their date, maps of Anglo-Saxon England and written sources from Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to work out who the dead person might have been.

How much does Sutton Hoo tell us about the Anglo-Saxons?

What can we tell from the Sutton Hoo burial and its objects about social structure, what jobs the Anglo-Saxons did, what men did and what women did, about rich and poor, about how they spent their time, what they ate and drank and what they believed about death and the gods? Look at some other sources and compare them with the ideas you have got from Sutton Hoo.

What was important to the Anglo-Saxons?

Imagine you were an Anglo-Saxon noble present at Sutton Hoo as each object was placed in the grave. What would each object say to you about what your society values and thinks is important? Follow this up by looking at other sources for the Anglo-Saxons.

How important were the discoveries at Sutton Hoo?

Introduce students to the idea of a historical Dark Age, looking at objects from Roman Britain and talking about the end of Roman rule and the arrival of north European migrants. Discuss how the objects found at Sutton Hoo challenged this view of the period.

Next section: For the classroom

The Sutton Hoo helmet