Figure 1. Social space at Sutton Hoo. This photograph is worthy of comment for the higher than normal ratio of women to men. Peggy Piggott is on the far right. Edith Pretty sits in the wicker chair in the foreground, while the ‘lady from Australia’ reclines on the far side of the trench.
Of course, Sutton Hoo was not the only richly furnished burial in 7th century England. From the middle of the 7th century we can see that it was actually women and girls who had the most eye-catching grave goods. We have evidence of this from two sites near Oxford, both investigated by Professor Helena Hamerow.
Helena Hamerow, A Byard, E Cameron, A Düring, P Levick, N Marquez-Grant and A Shortland (2015) A High-status seventh-century female burial from West Hanney, Oxfordshire. In the Antiquaries Journal (registration required)
In 2009, a metal-detector find of a rare garnet-inlaid composite disc brooch at West Hanney, Oxfordshire, led to the excavation of an apparently isolated female burial sited in a prominent position overlooking the Ock valley. The burial dates to the middle decades of the seventh century, a period of rapid socio-political development in the region, which formed the early heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. The de luxe brooch links the wearer to two other burials furnished with very similar brooches at Milton, some 10 km to the east and only c 1km from the Anglo-Saxon great hall complex at Sutton Courtenay / Drayton, just south of Abingdon. All three women must have been members of the region’s politically dominant group, known as the Gewisse. The burial’s grave goods and setting add a new dimension to our understanding of the richly furnished female burials that are such a prominent feature of the funerary record of seventh-century England.
Figure 2. Composite photo of the West Hanney brooch. On the left we see the brooch as excavated, the central image is after conservation, and the right image shows a digital ‘reconstruction’ by the School’s photographer, Ian Cartwright. Image credit: I. Cartwright.