Basil Brown was a farmer boy from Rickinghall in Suffolk who left school at the age of 13 to work on his father’s holding. He seemed ready to spend his life working on the ground.
Brown, who was born in 1888, certainly succeeded in the task – though not through farming. He went on to work very differently on the ground.
As a young man, he had pursued a passion: to explore hidden treasures and uncover the archaeological secrets of the local countryside. And as a Netflix movie Dig, Released on 29 January, reveals, he conquered in stunning style – in 1939 by discovering the treasure of Sutton Hoo.
On a private mound on private land outside Woodbridge in Safolock, Woodbridge – played by Ralph Fiennes – that uncovered the burial remains of the entire 27-meter-long ship; A secret chamber filled with gold and silver; One bent with a sword; Gilded shoulder coverings with garnet; And pieces of iron that were later assembled to make elaborate, iconic Sutton Hoo helmets. The seventh-century hoard was by far the richest grave in Europe.
“Brown uncovered this country’s largest archaeological treasure and in the process changed our understanding of English life in the early medieval period,” says Sue Bring, curator of the British Museum’s Sutton Hu collection.
“Before Sutton Hoo, it was thought that Britain had deteriorated culturally and economically badly after the Romans had left. But Brown discovered treasures in this quiet corner of England that spread throughout Europe and Asia Sources could be traced and shown that a large trade of money was going on at the time. England was no cultural backwater. “
The original decision to dig on Sutton Hoo was made by wealthy widow Edith Pretty (played by Carrie Mulligan). His property there was peppered with burial mounds that had been robbed in Tudor times. Was there any treasure left, he thought? Brown was recommended by experts at the Ipswich Museum – who by this time had taken evening classes, received several diplomas while taking over from his father, and began work on local archaeological excavations.
In 1938, he carried out some excavations that yielded promising results and the following year decided to investigate the largest mound on the property. Long after it began, Brown uncovered a piece of rusted iron that he identified as a rivet from the bow of the ship.
Very slowly he peeled back the clay to reveal the shape of the entire pot. The wood had disintegrated, but the rivers were fine to reveal the true outline of Saxon’s long deadline. It was a stunning scene: a ghostly image of an ancient vessel inscribed on Suffolk clay.
At that time, almost all ship burials were found in Norway and were of Norse origin. But Brown was quick to realize that it was not a Viking vessel but an Anglo-Saxon ship of earlier times. “This is a lifetime’s search,” he wrote in his diary on June 29, 1939.
The excavation proceeded to reveal a separate burial chamber, which again, was laboriously excavated. On July 22, Brown found out that when his teammates were excited, he found that the treasure trove had not been discovered.
Brown wrote that night, “I did not expect to see so much gold in any excavation in this country.” “There was a heavy gold buckle, a beautiful gold purse structure with 39 gold coins … a belt in solid with the best. Cloisonne work. All the things shone in the sun until the day he was buried. “
The resources and resources involved in attempting to encircle and then bury a ship before it was taken to a deep mine, consider it a remarkable undertaking, bringing images of the Old English poem Beowulf with its soaring wooden halls and powerful kings and nobles. is. Brown had helped to recreate our image of early medieval England.
First, no traces of any human remains were found on the site and it was concluded that it was meant to be more of a cenotaph than a grave. “However, later excavations indicated decaying biological remains that could have been human,” Bringing said. “For good measure, a huge, ornate sword was placed which was in line with the other tombs of the warriors. So I believe it was the tomb of a great man, perhaps even a king.
However, the identity of the person is not certain. The best candidate remains King Raedwald, who died around AD625, although there is still disagreement among archaeologists as to who interfered in Sutton Hu.
As to the immediate fate of Brown’s detachment, it was no less glamorous. On 3 September, Britain declared war on Germany and the country went into martial lockdown. Sutton Hoo was covered and its gold and silver were transported to Aldwick Tube Station in London, where the British Museum was hoarding its treasures. After only a few weeks in sunlight, it was placed in a tunnel that was 10 times deeper than its original Suffolk resting place and returned to darkness by the end of the war.
Today, the hoard is given its own room in the British Museum. The helmet, which was shattered to pieces in Sutton Hoo, has been put together and the rest of its treasures placed in public display – a monument to the sophistication and spring brown of our seventh-century predecessors.
“He did an incredible job digging the ship on Sutton Hoo,” says Bringon. “He may have been self-taught, but he was a notable archaeologist. As for the film, I think it gives the man a lot of credit for discovering more. “