Board Game at Sutton Hoo

Reconstructed ship burial at National Trust Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The reconstructed ship burial in the exhibition centre at National Trust Sutton Hoo includes the board game that was placed alongside the body. The original pieces are now in the British Museum.

Eddie Duggan writes:

It looks like hnefatafl – but all the bits are the same colour! 
The pieces are on the lines rather than in the spaces (alea evangelii may have been played on the lines, but alea evangelii was also probably intended as a symbolic use of the board [cf Wink Martindale’s “Deck of Cards”] rather than as a playable board game that was played for fun).  
If it is hnefatafl, pieces would play on the squares and there would be 24 attacking pieces and 12 defenders (together with defending a king); the defending pieces’ starting position is in a  symmetrical arrangement around the king while the attacking forces are grouped in sixes on each of the four sides. The aim is to get the king to safety, although which squares constitute safety is a matter of debate due to Linnaeus (the botanist) failing to make accurate notes during his tour of Lappland (Lachesis lapponica).

Reconstructions at Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill

Part of the arcade round the infirmary cloister at Rievaulx Abbey was reconstructed after it came under State Guardianship. The site was cleared under the direction of Sir Charles Peers in the 1920s, and some reconstructions made.

This sign on the reconstructed cloister arch was observed by William G.A. Ormsby-Gore [see his guidebooks], First Commissioner of Works, during a visit in December 1933; he made the note that it was ‘neat and unobtrusive’ and suggested further labels be applied around the site.

Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill
Infirmary cloister, Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill
  • Anna Keay 2004. The presentation of guardianship sites, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 48:7-20 [Abstract]
  • Sebastian Fry 2014. A History of the National Heritage Collection 4: 1913-1931. The Ancient Monuments Branch under Peers and Baines. Research Report Series 48-2014. English Heritage.

Reconstructions at Binham Priory

Binham Priory © David Gill

It is sometimes hard to spot where some of the masonry at a heritage site has been restored. At Binham Prory in Norfolk the Ministry placed a sign to show where restoration work had taken place on the supports for the main tower.

Colchester: The Fenwick Treasure

Colchester Castle
The Fenwick Treasure © David Gill

The Fenwick Treasure was discovered in 2014 during excavations adjacent to the present High Street in Colchester. It appears to have been deposited in a small pit under the floor of one of the houses during the destruction of the Roman colony by Boudicca.

The treasure includes jewellery as well as coins.

The treasure is displayed in the Colchester Castle alongside other finds from the colony.

Security guards for the opening of the Fenwick Treasure, Colchester Castle © David Gill

South Shields (Arbeia) Roman Fort

South Shields Roman Fort © David Gill

The Roman fort at South Shields guards the mouth of the Tyne. The fort probably dates to the 160s, and major reconstruction took place in the early 3rd century. The site was first identified in 1875, and further excavations took place after the Second World War. The west gate was reconstructed in 1988.


Sutton Hoo: Developments for 2016

Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The National Trust has announced various developments for Sutton Hoo:

Sutton Hoo Ship Helps Launch Exciting New Season

A new year will get underway in Anglo-Saxon style next weekend with a visit from the replica Sutton Hoo ship – the Sae Wylfing.

The National Trust site will be welcoming visitors seven days a week from Half Term until the end of October and will be marking the occasion with a special event on the weekend of 13 and 14 February.

Visitors will be able to learn more about the Anglo-Saxon ship burial, before climbing aboard and feeling what it might be like to be a Dark Age King. The Woodbridge Riverside Trust will be on hand to talk about the ship and how it was made.

Throughout the Half Term week, on some days, there will also be visits from King Raedwald himself, displaying and talking about his extraordinary treasures.

A new exhibition also opens on the same weekend called ‘Weaving Words’, celebrating Old English – the lost language of the Saxons, and the remarkable stories that were told around the feasting hall, with readings of poems like Beowulf in the original language.

And Sutton Hoo is also looking to the future by examining its past. Weather permitting, there will be an archaeological team on site on some days, conducting a geophysical survey with ground scanning equipment, and visitors will be encouraged to take part.

‘We are interested in developing a deeper archaeological understanding of this unique site,’ said National Trust Archaeologist Angus Wainwright. ‘And we’re also interested in finding out if our visitors are interested in getting more actively involved in archaeology here – who knows what secrets still lie beneath our feet?’

This year is set to be a particularly exciting one for Sutton Hoo, as it enters the first stage of the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project to redevelop the whole experience offered to visitors.

With its atmospheric burial mounds, exhibition hall, café and countryside, as well as Mrs Pretty’s house where you can discover the 1930s story of the dig, there will be plenty to do, see and get involved with at Sutton Hoo, not just this Half Term, but throughout the whole year.

Sutton Hoo is open every day from 10.30am to 5.00pm from 13 February until 30 October, and more details can be found at

Tomba dei Rilievi, Cerveteri: 3D model

My colleague Eddie Duggan has drawn my attention to the 3D model of the Etruscan Tomba dei Rilievi at Cerveteri, Italy. We had been working on sympotic equipment that features in the decoration of the tomb.

Stour Barge

Stour barge
Stour Barge at UCS © David Gill

One of the projects supported by the Heritage Futures team was the ‘Managing a Masterpiece‘ project on the Stour Valley. One of the projects was the reconstruction of the ‘John Constable’ Stour barge. This was first displayed at UCS before being transported to Sudbury.

A detailed report (‘The Stour Navigation Compendium’) can be found here.

Caerlaverock Castle guidebooks

1975 (8th impression)
1975 (8th impression)

Caerlaverock Castle must be one of my favourite castles: perhaps alongside Nunney Castle in Somerset. Caerlaverock’s triangular shape, and the setting within a moat add to its setting.

Parts of the castle date back to the late 13th century. It was besieged by Edward I in 1300. The housing inside the castle was constructed in the 17th century.

The castle was placed int the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1946.

The official guide by B.H. St John O’Neil was prepared in 1952 (my copy is the 1975 edition). It contains a detailed history (pp. 2-9) followed by a description (pp. 10-16). A series of plans, black and white photographs, and a reconstruction by Alan Sorrell appear in the centre section. O’Neil describes it was ‘one of the most impressive castles of Britain’.


The Historic Scotland Official Souvenir Guide by Doreen Grove and Peter Yeoman was first published in 2995, with a revised edition in 2006. This is a fully illustrated guide, with a Guided Tour followed by the History, with special features on the siege of 1300, and the castle and the wars with England. The guide claims it as ‘one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses’.

Anglo-Saxon “grubenhaus” to be dismantled

West Stow Anglo-Saxon village © David Gill
West Stow Anglo-Saxon village © David Gill

The Anglo-Saxon “grubenhaus” at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village is to be dismantled (“Anglo-Saxon house in West Stow to be pulled down“, BBC News, 3 October 2015). The reconstruction was erected in 1974.

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