The helmet was discovered in a vast ship buried underground in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. The ship and its contents remained hidden for more than 1000 years.
In 1939, Mrs Edith Pretty, a landowner at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, asked archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. Inside, he discovered a spectacular undisturbed burial in a vast ship. The Sutton Hoo ship is longer than many modern ocean-going yachts.
The burial chamber dating to the early 1600’s was constructed in the middle of the ship. Once everything had been placed inside the burial chamber, a large earth mound was raised over it. It had once been a working vessel, as there were signs of repairs to the ship’s body.
The extraordinarily rich grave goods suggested that the ship burial commemorated a very high-ranking man – possibly even a king. The helmet was found lying in the tomb. Look at the nose, eyebrows and holes for the warrior’s eyes. Can you see a dragon with outstretched wings, made up by the two bushy eyebrows, nose and mustache?
A complete replica made by the Royal Armories shows how the original would have looked (below).
The helmet’s surfaces were covered with tinned copper alloy panels that gave it a bright, silvery appearance. Many of these panels were decorated with interlacing animal ornament and heroic scenes of warriors. One scene shows two men wearing horned headgear, holding swords and spears. The other shows a mounted warrior trampling a fallen enemy, who in turn stabs the horse. The rider carries a spear which is supported by a curious small figure, standing on the rump of his horse – perhaps a supernatural helper?
The helmet was made of iron and probably weighed about 2.5 kg. It had a leather lining and holes under the nose for the wearer to breathe.
Of course, it’s possible that the wearer of the helmet didn’t have a mustache. Maybe it’s simply a design feature, forming the “tail” of the dragon. To assuage any disappointment, here are some images of more Anglo-Saxon mustaches from around the same time period.
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