On this day in 1939, over 500 fragments of a helmet were discovered on the property of an English woman named Edith Pretty who had hired archeologists to excavate 18 burial mounds located on her property.
The pieces were originally reconstructed in 1946 and put on display in the British Museum. In recognition of this find, Winston Churchill offered Ms. Pretty the “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.” She declined.
A further excavation in 1967 unearthed more pieces and in 1971 the current reconstruction was put on display.
“The Sutton Hoo helmet is a decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet discovered during the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. Buried around 625, it is widely believed to have been the helmet of King Rædwald; for whom its elaborate decoration may have given it a secondary function almost akin to a crown. The helmet is “the most iconic object” from one “of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries ever made,” and one of the most important Anglo-Saxon artefacts ever found. Its visage, with eyebrows, nose and moustache creating the image of a man who is then joined by a dragon’s head to become a soaring dragon with outstretched wings, has become a symbol not only of the Dark Ages, but also “of Archaeology in general.” Excavated as hundreds of rusted fragments, the helmet was first displayed following an initial reconstruction in 1945–46, and then again, in its present form, after a second reconstruction in 1970–71. Along with all the other finds from Sutton Hoo, the helmet was determined by a treasure trove inquest to be the property of the landowner of the site of the ship-burial, Edith May Pretty. She subsequently donated all the objects to the British Museum, where they were conserved and put on display; in 2017 the helmet was on view in Room 41.”