Identification, Geochemical Characterisation and Significance of Bitumen among the Grave Goods of the 7th Century Mound 1 Ship-Burial at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk, UK)

Pauline Burger, Rebecca J Stacey, Stephen A. Bowden, Marei Hacke, John Parnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The 7th century ship-burial at Sutton Hoo is famous for the spectacular treasure discovered when it was first excavated in 1939. The finds include gold and garnet jewellery, silverware, coins and ceremonial armour of broad geographical provenance which make a vital contribution to understanding the political landscape of early medieval Northern Europe. Fragments of black organic material found scattered within the burial were originally identified as 'Stockholm Tar' and linked to waterproofing and maintenance of the ship. Here we present new scientific analyses undertaken to re-evaluate the nature and origin of these materials, leading to the identification of a previously unrecognised prestige material among the treasure: bitumen from the Middle East. Whether the bitumen was gifted as diplomatic gesture or acquired through trading links, its presence in the burial attests to the far-reaching network within which the elite of the region operated at this time. If the bitumen was worked into objects, either alone or in composite with other materials, then their significance within the burial would certainly have been strongly linked to their form or purpose. But the novelty of the material itself may have added to the exotic appeal. Archaeological finds of bitumen from this and earlier periods in Britain are extremely rare, despite the abundance of natural sources of bitumen within Great Britain. This find provides the first material evidence indicating that the extensively exploited Middle Eastern bitumen sources were traded northward beyond the Mediterranean to reach northern Europe and the British Isles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0166276
JournalPloS ONE
Volume11
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Fingerprint

asphalt
bitumen
Burial
Ships
ships
Northern European region
flatware
Jewelry
Waterproofing
Tars
Gestures
Numismatics
Middle East
Armor
British Isles
Garnets
Gold
provenance
gold
United Kingdom

Cite this

Identification, Geochemical Characterisation and Significance of Bitumen among the Grave Goods of the 7th Century Mound 1 Ship-Burial at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk, UK). / Burger, Pauline; Stacey, Rebecca J; Bowden, Stephen A.; Hacke, Marei; Parnell, John.

In: PloS ONE, Vol. 11, No. 12, e0166276, 01.12.2016.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{83e8bfec6d3a448ba38fb785e445a4ae,
title = "Identification, Geochemical Characterisation and Significance of Bitumen among the Grave Goods of the 7th Century Mound 1 Ship-Burial at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk, UK)",
abstract = "The 7th century ship-burial at Sutton Hoo is famous for the spectacular treasure discovered when it was first excavated in 1939. The finds include gold and garnet jewellery, silverware, coins and ceremonial armour of broad geographical provenance which make a vital contribution to understanding the political landscape of early medieval Northern Europe. Fragments of black organic material found scattered within the burial were originally identified as 'Stockholm Tar' and linked to waterproofing and maintenance of the ship. Here we present new scientific analyses undertaken to re-evaluate the nature and origin of these materials, leading to the identification of a previously unrecognised prestige material among the treasure: bitumen from the Middle East. Whether the bitumen was gifted as diplomatic gesture or acquired through trading links, its presence in the burial attests to the far-reaching network within which the elite of the region operated at this time. If the bitumen was worked into objects, either alone or in composite with other materials, then their significance within the burial would certainly have been strongly linked to their form or purpose. But the novelty of the material itself may have added to the exotic appeal. Archaeological finds of bitumen from this and earlier periods in Britain are extremely rare, despite the abundance of natural sources of bitumen within Great Britain. This find provides the first material evidence indicating that the extensively exploited Middle Eastern bitumen sources were traded northward beyond the Mediterranean to reach northern Europe and the British Isles.",
author = "Pauline Burger and Stacey, {Rebecca J} and Bowden, {Stephen A.} and Marei Hacke and John Parnell",
note = "Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Antony Simpson for formatting the figures for publication. We are indebted to Dr Sonja Marzinzik and Dr Sue Brunning, former and current curators of the Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory at the British Museum, for facilitating access to the Sutton Hoo finds. Carbon and hydrogen isotopic measurements were carried out by Iso-Analytical Limited. We are grateful to colleagues and others who read and commented on the manuscript in draft. Funding: This research was supported by funding from the European Commission Research Executive Agency (REA) via the Marie Curie Actions – Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development funding scheme (FP7-MC-IEF), Grant Agreement No. 253942, awarded to PB and RJS for project AMPT (Ancient Maritime Pitch and Tar: a multi-disciplinary study of sources, technology and preservation). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.",
year = "2016",
month = "12",
day = "1",
doi = "10.1371/journal.pone.0166276",
language = "English",
volume = "11",
journal = "PloS ONE",
issn = "1932-6203",
publisher = "PUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE",
number = "12",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Identification, Geochemical Characterisation and Significance of Bitumen among the Grave Goods of the 7th Century Mound 1 Ship-Burial at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk, UK)

AU - Burger, Pauline

AU - Stacey, Rebecca J

AU - Bowden, Stephen A.

AU - Hacke, Marei

AU - Parnell, John

N1 - Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Antony Simpson for formatting the figures for publication. We are indebted to Dr Sonja Marzinzik and Dr Sue Brunning, former and current curators of the Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory at the British Museum, for facilitating access to the Sutton Hoo finds. Carbon and hydrogen isotopic measurements were carried out by Iso-Analytical Limited. We are grateful to colleagues and others who read and commented on the manuscript in draft. Funding: This research was supported by funding from the European Commission Research Executive Agency (REA) via the Marie Curie Actions – Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development funding scheme (FP7-MC-IEF), Grant Agreement No. 253942, awarded to PB and RJS for project AMPT (Ancient Maritime Pitch and Tar: a multi-disciplinary study of sources, technology and preservation). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

PY - 2016/12/1

Y1 - 2016/12/1

N2 - The 7th century ship-burial at Sutton Hoo is famous for the spectacular treasure discovered when it was first excavated in 1939. The finds include gold and garnet jewellery, silverware, coins and ceremonial armour of broad geographical provenance which make a vital contribution to understanding the political landscape of early medieval Northern Europe. Fragments of black organic material found scattered within the burial were originally identified as 'Stockholm Tar' and linked to waterproofing and maintenance of the ship. Here we present new scientific analyses undertaken to re-evaluate the nature and origin of these materials, leading to the identification of a previously unrecognised prestige material among the treasure: bitumen from the Middle East. Whether the bitumen was gifted as diplomatic gesture or acquired through trading links, its presence in the burial attests to the far-reaching network within which the elite of the region operated at this time. If the bitumen was worked into objects, either alone or in composite with other materials, then their significance within the burial would certainly have been strongly linked to their form or purpose. But the novelty of the material itself may have added to the exotic appeal. Archaeological finds of bitumen from this and earlier periods in Britain are extremely rare, despite the abundance of natural sources of bitumen within Great Britain. This find provides the first material evidence indicating that the extensively exploited Middle Eastern bitumen sources were traded northward beyond the Mediterranean to reach northern Europe and the British Isles.

AB - The 7th century ship-burial at Sutton Hoo is famous for the spectacular treasure discovered when it was first excavated in 1939. The finds include gold and garnet jewellery, silverware, coins and ceremonial armour of broad geographical provenance which make a vital contribution to understanding the political landscape of early medieval Northern Europe. Fragments of black organic material found scattered within the burial were originally identified as 'Stockholm Tar' and linked to waterproofing and maintenance of the ship. Here we present new scientific analyses undertaken to re-evaluate the nature and origin of these materials, leading to the identification of a previously unrecognised prestige material among the treasure: bitumen from the Middle East. Whether the bitumen was gifted as diplomatic gesture or acquired through trading links, its presence in the burial attests to the far-reaching network within which the elite of the region operated at this time. If the bitumen was worked into objects, either alone or in composite with other materials, then their significance within the burial would certainly have been strongly linked to their form or purpose. But the novelty of the material itself may have added to the exotic appeal. Archaeological finds of bitumen from this and earlier periods in Britain are extremely rare, despite the abundance of natural sources of bitumen within Great Britain. This find provides the first material evidence indicating that the extensively exploited Middle Eastern bitumen sources were traded northward beyond the Mediterranean to reach northern Europe and the British Isles.

U2 - 10.1371/journal.pone.0166276

DO - 10.1371/journal.pone.0166276

M3 - Article

VL - 11

JO - PloS ONE

JF - PloS ONE

SN - 1932-6203

IS - 12

M1 - e0166276

ER -