The indoor exhibition is still contained within the same large modern shed as before, but the latter has now been renamed as ‘the High Hall’. Of course it is right to stress the importance of the Hall in Anglo-Saxon life but any illusion that this building might seem like a 7th century timber hall inside is destroyed by the placing of a large circular exhibition gallery in its centre. So a visitor goes around the outside of this structure and then its interior, hardly what one does when visiting a long rectangular building such as an Anglo-Saxon hall. The point is not perhaps all that important, but invoking a ‘High Hall’ seems rather pointless when it is immediately negated.
That said, I thought the exhibition was excellent – innovative, full of interest and with objects of such magnificence that one forgot that almost all are reproductions (the original material is in the British Museum).
The Hall is themed on three principal topics – the people in the royal court, the royal connections overseas and the technical skills needed in war and peace.
The ‘people’ section is about individuals, dominated by women, so very much in the fashion of our own times. The introductory video is of two women, an old retainer and a new slave-girl, chatting as they prepare for the funeral of a king. It vividly brings out the dilemma at individual level of tradition v. the new, and specifically of pagan beliefs and this incoming new religion called Christianity.
The first of numerous photographs of well-made models continues these ideas with panels on the ‘Wise Woman’ and the ‘Slave Girl’, both emphasising the importance of women in Anglo-Saxon society and also introducing the idea of social hierarchy within that society.
Personally, I was particularly glad to see the prominence given to the second theme, the Anglo-Saxons’ far-reaching connections to worlds far beyond East Angle-land:
A set of excellent distribution maps illustrates this largely unappreciated dimension of our supposedly ‘primitive’ forebears. As exemplars, the first shows the generality of connections with the Eastern Roman Empire centred on Byzantium, the second how far away one of the specialist materials on the site, bitumen, had to be sourced.
Acknowledgement is given to the skill of the various crafts-people actually making the many extraordinary objects created in England from materials brought from afar. One such craftsman is illustrated:
Among the many objects, one decorated brooch is picked out for analytical treatment:
That’s quite enough for one post. I’ll add a Sutton Hoo exhibited III post shortly.