Anglo-Saxon Boat burial, Snape

Outline of the burial boat seen during excavation

This boat burial (Grave 47) was excavated from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Snape. This burial belongs to a young, even adolescent, man and dates to the c. 6th Century AD.

It is certain that the man was of high social standing despite his young age, as he was buried within a log boat adorned with a large number of grave goods and animal offerings, including a rather impressive sword! It is likely that he even had a four-posted structure constructed over his grave, but how this relates to the young man’s funerary rites remains a mystery.

The boat was first lain into the grave cut and was slightly infilled with soil before being draped with textiles. The illustration of the grave plan below shows the layour and how it was furnished. A horse head (S) was placed upright at the bow wearing its harness (B, R, T, and U) which was trailed carefully into the boat.

A variety of items were placed within the burial including: a wooden bucket (F), a foot rim from a Roman pot (N), a large fragment of quartzite (K) representing a maul, a ceramic spindle whorl (M), an iron knife with a handle made of horn (H), a comb (L), a shield (A), a bundle of spears carefully wrapped in textile and lain upon a feather pillow (D), an animal offering (Q), and possible the most impressive a large sword (G).

illustrated plan of the grave with parts labelled
Labelled plan of the boat burial (Grave 47).

The sword (surviving length of c. 1m) has a two edged pattern welded blade, with a moulded/shaped grip made of horn. The sword was slid inside a scabbard of considerable craftmanship, made of thick layers of wood covered in leather. The whole sword, like the spears was also wrapped in textiles before being placed in the grave. Also found in the boat were a number of iron fittings and rivets (C, E and O), fragments of various buckles (I and J) and an unidentified wooden object (P).

The sword from the boat burial.
The sword from the boat burial (Grave 47).

Some of the items listed above were similar to those found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial, of particular note the feather pillow, luxurious textiles and weaponry. This similarity with Sutton Hoo shows that this burial was of high-status, especially when also taking the young age of the deceased into account. It is difficult to say how he lived his life and who he had connections with – was he the son of a nobleman? Had he already earned his high status in his own right? Was he somehow related to those who lived at Sutton Hoo?

For more information:
Flimer-Sankey, W and T. Pestell. 2001. Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery: Excavation and Surveys 1824-1992. East Anglian Archaeology Report no. 95

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

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