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Time Team spearheads two-year research project at Sutton Hoo

Tony Robinson and Helen Geake stood outside the gate to Garden Field at Sutton Hoo
The National Trust has joined forces with Time Team on a new two-year research project | © Time Team

The National Trust has joined forces with Time Team on a new two-year research project at Sutton Hoo.

It’s hoped that the archaeological project, coordinated in partnership with Time Team, will help build a greater understanding of the Suffolk site, which is famous for the Anglo-Saxon ship burial discovered there in 1939.

This research partnership will build on the work carried out by Time Team in 2021 and 2022, when they conducted magnetometry and ground penetrating radar surveys of both the Royal Burial Ground and Garden Field, working with SUMO Geophysics, Aerial Cam and Guideline GEO | MALÅ, and partially funded by the Sutton Hoo Society.

Regional Archaeologist for the National Trust, Angus Wainwright, said: “Time Team’s geophysical survey identified several mysterious features in Garden Field. We want to determine if they are archaeology or geological features. To do this we are carefully planning for an archaeological dig in June.

“Garden Field has an extraordinary amount of archaeology in it, from prehistoric fields and possible burial mounds through to Roman settlements and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, but who knows what else may be hidden there.

“We know from previous work in this field, it’s likely we will find prehistoric flint tools and fragments of Anglo-Saxon objects from burials scattered through the plough soil, but working out what the mysterious geophysical anomalies are will be our focus.

“We hope to find evidence of the deep-time prehistory of Sutton Hoo and perhaps more information about the Anglo-Saxon cemetery, which we first discovered in 2000, when we were building the visitor centre.

“The approach will be painstaking, recording all the finds in 3D from the ground surface, down through the plough soil until we reach the undisturbed archaeology.”

Visitors at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
It’s hoped that the new archaeological project will help build a greater understanding of the Suffolk site | © National Trust Images/Phil Morley

Supported by Field Archaeological Specialists (FAS), this latest project will involve members of the 1980s archaeological team who carried out a dig on the Royal Burial Ground.

Time Team’s Series Producer and Creator, Tim Taylor, said: “We are incredibly thrilled to expand our relationship with Sutton Hoo, delving deeper into the history of one of Britain’s most iconic sites. The story of Sutton Hoo has captured the world’s imagination, as we can see by the success of the award-winning film The Dig, and we hope to reveal yet another exciting chapter.”

As well as the anomalies in Garden Field, the recent and first large-scale geophysics survey of the Royal Burial Ground, funded by Time Team and the Sutton Hoo Society, is continuing to grow the National Trust’s understanding of the site.

Angus added: “The discovery of the Great Ship Burial in 1939 not only stunned the archaeological world but set the scene for further exploration. Later archaeological campaigns at Sutton Hoo helped solve mysteries left by the original dig and revealed more about life in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia. We can’t wait to see what this next chapter will bring.”

Time Team expert, Dr Helen Geake, added: “It feels so exciting that we can uncover a new area, a new part of the landscape. It's a tantalising piece of the jigsaw puzzle that we've always known a bit about, but to be able to find something new and tangible would be truly amazing.”

A small terrain vehicle being used to carry out GPR of the Royal Burial Ground at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk
Earlier surveys included the Royal Burial Ground but now the project will focus on Garden Field | © James Dobson/National Trust Images

The National Trust will be working with archaeology volunteers to help support this project and there will be plenty of opportunities for visitors to see archaeology in action when the dig takes place this June. Keep an eye on the National Trust’s website and social media for more updates leading up to the excavation.

Time Team will document this unique investigation as it unfolds, culminating in a documentary special, presented by Sir Tony Robinson, and with a series of exclusive updates for fans on the membership platform, Patreon.

Sir Tony remarked: “In all my years exploring archaeology, I never, ever thought that I would get a chance to be involved with an excavation of Sutton Hoo - that is so exciting.”

Full details of the coverage and documentary release dates will be confirmed in a future announcement.

The research project complements a separate, ongoing Time Team documentary, already in development, filming the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company’s reconstruction of the ship at the centre of the site’s story.