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National Trust joins forces with Time Team for project aiming to reveal more about Sutton Hoo



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A new collaboration between the National Trust and Time Team is hoping to shed new light on one of the country's most important archaeological sites in Suffolk.

The research project will aim to reveal more about Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, where archaeologist Basil Brown and his team discovered an Anglo-Saxon ship burial during the famous 1939 dig.

A series of archaeological investigations using the latest non-invasive technology have been planned by the National Trust archaeologists and Time Team, which will be streamed online via YouTube - seven years after the last episode of Channel 4's Time Team aired.

From left, John Gater, Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team
From left, John Gater, Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team

Officials at Sutton Hoo are hoping the project will be able to build up a more complete picture of the historic site.

Laura Howarth, archaeology and engagement manager, said: “The Sutton Hoo landscape is layered with people’s stories stretching back over the centuries and whilst we know some of these stories, there is still so much more we could learn.

"These non-invasive techniques paint a subsurface picture of what lies beneath our feet, allowing us to hopefully discover more about how different people have used this landscape whilst causing the least amount of damage.”

An aerial view of GPR being carried out on the Royal Burial Ground at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson
An aerial view of GPR being carried out on the Royal Burial Ground at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) has been used on the Royal Burial Ground, including some areas for the first time.

Magnetometry surveys have also taken place on a scale that has not been possible before, with high resolution, in an area adjacent to the High Hall exhibition. It was during construction of this exhibition building in the early 2000s that an Anglo-Saxon folk cemetery was discovered.

Photogrammetry, which is the science of extracting 3D information from photographs, is another process that Time Team will be using, supported by Aerial Cam, to help bring the landscape to life in the form of an interactive and immersive 3D digital model.

Since the 1939 dig took place, new technology has been introduced, which has also seen advancements in recent years.

MALA ground-penetrating radar in action at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson (53476649)
MALA ground-penetrating radar in action at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson (53476649)

GPR is a method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface, helping to identify features and changes such as voids and ditches.

Magnetometry relies on the ability to measure very small magnetic fields and has become one of the most important archaeological methods for the detection and mapping of buried remains.

“The excavations that took place here in the 1930s were amongst the beginning thrilling chapters of archaeological investigation, but we are really excited to be working with Time Team on these latest instalments to the Sutton Hoo story," Laura said.

Dr John Gater of SUMO Geophysics (left) and Tim Taylor, Series Producer and creator of Time Team, at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team
Dr John Gater of SUMO Geophysics (left) and Tim Taylor, Series Producer and creator of Time Team, at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team

"Using the latest in cutting edge technology, the survey techniques being used here have the potential to detect archaeological features such as field boundaries, building foundations and ploughed-out burial mounds, but we shall just have to wait and see what is actually discovered.

"We hope to be able to share this latest research in the coming months.”

It is the first time that a field known as Garden Field, next to the High Hall exhibition, has been surveyed using GPR and the first time that the whole of this field has been surveyed using magnetometry.

Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton of Guideline Geo MALÅ carrying out GPR at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team
Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton of Guideline Geo MALÅ carrying out GPR at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team

This field which lies close to another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has revealed such finds as a sixth century Byzantine bucket and a gold Roman coin pendant - both on display in the High Hall exhibition and on long term loan from the Annie Tranmer Charitable Trust.

Tim Taylor, creator and series producer of Time Team, said Sutton Hoo had always held a special place in their heart.

"We are delighted to play a role in shedding new light on such an iconic site," he said.

"Combining state-of-the-art technology, working with colleagues at SUMO Geophysics, Aerial Cam and Guideline Geo | MALÅ and using Time Team’s global reach, we look forward to making some wonderful discoveries and sharing them with audiences around the world.”

Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton of Guideline Geo MALÅ carrying out GPR on behalf of Time Team at Sutton Hoo with the new viewing tower in the background. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson
Jimmy Adcock and Mike Langton of Guideline Geo MALÅ carrying out GPR on behalf of Time Team at Sutton Hoo with the new viewing tower in the background. Picture: National Trust Images James Dobson

Tim added: “The Dig was about one man and one woman’s desire to find out more about our past.

"I think Basil Brown and Mrs Edith Pretty would be delighted and intrigued about the new technology.

"Complementing our work with the National Trust, Time Team will also be working with Professor Martin Carver and the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company to film an exclusive documentary about the reconstruction of the amazing Sutton Hoo ship.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data processing at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team
Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) data processing at Sutton Hoo. Picture: Time Team

"It’s safe to say we’re looking forward to being immersed in the Sutton Hoo story!”

Historic England has supported and enabled the new research project and welcomes the use of non-invasive methods to learn more of Sutton Hoo’s significant history.

Will Fletcher, East of England development advice team leader for Historic England, said: “I’m delighted to see this new non-invasive research take place at Sutton Hoo.

A sculpture of the Anglo-Saxon ship that was buried at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley
A sculpture of the Anglo-Saxon ship that was buried at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley

"While celebrated excavations have revealed legendary stories from this remarkable site, there is always something new to discover about such an important archaeological place. This new information will help to inform the care and future enjoyment of Sutton Hoo.”

The results of the latest investigations will be shared by Time Team and the National Trust in the spring.

A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet that was discovered in 1939, which is on display in the High Hall Exhibition at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley
A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet that was discovered in 1939, which is on display in the High Hall Exhibition at Sutton Hoo. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley
Archive images of the now famous 1939 dig at Sutton Hoo are now on display in Tranmer House. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley
Archive images of the now famous 1939 dig at Sutton Hoo are now on display in Tranmer House. Picture: National Trust Images Phil Morley

Sutton Hoo has seen an increase in visitors this year, since the Netflix film The Dig aired, which has sparked a renewed interest in both the site and archaeology.

The High Hall exhibition, Tranmer House, Shop, Café and Bookshop are now open at weekends, with the estate walks and viewing tower open daily.