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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:25 GMT
Sutton Hoo treasures on show
A visitor looks at a sword and shield believed to belong to Raedwald warrior Ling of the East Angles
Visitors will be able to see a range of treasures
An exhibition centre depicting the history of one of Britain's most important archaeological sites has been unveiled.

The National Trust's 5m project at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, displays priceless Anglo-Saxon treasures which were buried under a field for 1,300 years.

Experts say Sutton Hoo - the burial ground of the Anglo-Saxon pagan kings of East Anglia - ranks in historical importance with Stonehenge.

The exhibition centre at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, was opened on Wednesday by the poet Seamus Heaney.

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney opened the exhibition

Sutton Hoo was excavated in 1938, in the late 1960s, and again in the 1980s.

When constructing the exhibition centre in 2000, another cemetery was found.

The findings have been a huge influence on historical thinking surrounding the Dark Ages.

Treasures uncovered during digs include a warrior's helmet and shield, along with gold ornaments, and Byzantine silver.

Many of the artefacts were discovered in the remains of a 90ft burial ship which is reconstructed at the exhibition with replica finds.

The treasures have been housed in the British Museum in London since their discovery.

British Museum officials agreed to lend some of the artefacts to the National Trust so they could go on show at the exhibition centre - which was built with the help of a 3.6m Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

It is the only accepted pagan Anglo-Saxon royal burial ground - equivalent in status to Westminster Abbey today

National Trust

Opening the exhibition, Mr Heaney, author of the acclaimed translation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf, said it was money well spent.

"The site is very important.

"Having translated Beowulf it is tremendously fulfilling to see some of these things here ... I have not been to Sutton Hoo before. The site has a tremendous solemnity."

He added: "I think it is an excellent use of Lottery money. I think it matters deeply that ancient history is studied and remembered. It is an exhibition I would recommend."

A National Trust spokeswoman said: "It is the only accepted pagan Anglo-Saxon royal burial ground - equivalent in status to Westminster Abbey today.

"Anglo-Saxon ship burials and evidence of Anglo-Saxon aristocratic warrior culture are very rare.

National importance

"It is also highly unusual to find such a store of treasure - many other burial sites have been plundered or were excavated without documentation.

"The national importance of the finds is reflected in the prominence they hold in the British Museum's collections."

Sutton Hoo was a milestone for historians of the Dark Ages because it reversed the perception that Anglo Saxons were relatively unsophisticated.

After the finds, experts revised this opinion to one of a highly developed noble culture with skilled craftsmen influenced by European methods.

The centre, which opens to the public on Thursday, will include a cinema, education, conference and function centre, improved access to the burial mounds, a restaurant and shop.

Kate Sussams, property manager of the site, said: "This centre provides great value for money. It is bringing history alive.

"We are going to attract at least 60,000 visitors a year.

"This is making the site accessible when in the past in has been inaccessible."

The BBC's Ben McCarthy
"It's the site of some of the richest archaeological finds ever made"

Click here to go to BBC Suffolk
See also:

13 Mar 02 | England
Picture gallery: Sutton Hoo
23 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Suffolk site throws up new treasures
08 Jan 99 | Sci/Tech
Ancient warrior resurrected
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